Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Delaware River Impacts From Natural Gas Drilling

Delaware River Basin Commission "Doesn’t Ask" what will happen to hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater when deciding on million gallon a day water withdrawal permit
By Iris Marie Bloom
Community Contributor
(Phila.) Weekly Press
21 Oct. 09

Upstate, some folks have started putting spikes in the roads to block trucks related to the natural gas industry. Downstate, meetings have stayed polite but tense, so far.

In New York, the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club decided on October 17, looking at the damage across the river in Pennsylvania so far, to ask New York State to ban hydraulic extraction, the water-intensive new natural gas technology, outright. But in Pennsylvania last week, the state legislature decimated its own environmental regulatory agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, with 27% cuts, while protecting the natural gas industry from a severance tax that would have given state coffers 90 million dollars this year, according to its sponsor. As soon as that was accomplished, Rendell’s point man on the issue went to work for the industry.

Nationally, clean water advocates are working to pass the FRAC Act, a bill to restore the Clean Drinking Water Act. The FRAC Act would close a loophole exempting hydraulic extraction – which has contaminated drinking water with toxic substances in at least three states so far, including Pennsylvania – from federal regulation.

What’s that all got to do with Philadelphia? Here, it’s all about drinking water.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) indicated at a meeting sponsored by the American Water Resources Association in Center City on October 15th that it will likely approve a massive withdrawal request for a million gallons of water per day from the Upper Delaware River. Off the record, some officials indicated that public outcry and "TV cameras" might make a difference. All of the water will be mixed with toxic chemicals at a ratio of about 7,500 chemicals per million and a half gallons of water, according to the natural gas industry. Both the industry and the DRBC concur that no plan currently exists to treat the resulting heavily polluted wastewater. Hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater will be brought back to the surface from natural gas drilling operations and stored in pits (some open, some closed), with a certain amount of inevitable spills, until industry officials and regulators figure out what to do with it.

That could take years. There are currently no treatment plants in Pennsylvania capable of adequately treating the heavily polluted wastewater. Building new plants capable of doing so is extremely expensive, and officials estimate it would take about 50 such plants to handle the anticipated discharge. There is no information available about what might happen to the 40% to 70% of the contaminated water left behind, deep in the ground.

Meanwhile, Carol Collier, Executive Director of the DRBC, commented on October 15 that perhaps the wastewater would be "trucked downstream to where TDS (total dissolved solids, the most measurable and obvious component of frac wastewater) is not such an issue." Translated into simple language, that apparently means discharging the water in the Delaware River far south of where it is being trucked (200 trucks a day, leaving every 7 to 8 minutes) to natural gas pads in northern Pennsylvania. South of Trenton, the Delaware River has a greater volume of water to dilute the pollution. North of Trenton, the Delaware is better protected from severe pollution under the environmental designation, "Special Protection Waters."

Fifty percent of Philadelphia’s drinking water comes from the Delaware River; fifty percent comes from the Schuylkill River, which may also be impacted.

What’s in those chemicals? The exact formulas are not disclosed, at least as long as the process remains exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. But EPA officials and other scientists have identified 54 to 300 components of "frac fluid" and wastewater resulting from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in deep shale layers, such as the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

The components include known carcinogens and powerful fish pesticides, and the wastewater includes radioactive material from underground as well as heavy metals and extreme amounts of salt from ancient oceans.

The DRBC is still accepting public comment about the proposal from Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC to withdraw a million gallons a day in Wayne, PA, and may make their decision about the proposal and other proposals pending in November. The agency is under tremendous pressure to approve the proposal. Appalachia has taken out ads in northern Pennsylvania blaming the DRBC for keeping landowners from getting the royalties they expect after leasing their lands to gas companies. Hostility towards the DRBC from landowners is mounting accordingly.

In related recent news, one to three spills of frac fluid, from 5,000 to 8,000 gallons, occurred last week in Dimock, PA. Last month, 161 species completely died off in Dunkard Creek in Southwestern PA, creating a mystery that investigators have still not solved. Last week the DEP issued drinking water notices again for the Monongahela River due to unacceptable levels of total dissolved solids (TDS), a result of hydraulic fracturing wastewater being discharged into the river. The Monongahela River provides drinking water to 350,000 people in Pennsylvania.

In August, the EPA confirmed the presence of 2-BE (butoxyethanol), which is associated with kidney damage, harm to the adrenal gland, and reproductive problems, in drinking water both in Colorado and in Pavillion, Wyoming, in association with hydraulic extraction for natural gas there. Butoxyethanol is a known constituent of fracing fluid.

Citizens in both states complaining of adrenal cancer, seizures, birth defects and miscarriages have called for a halt to hydraulic fracturing in their regions after 2-BE contamination in their drinking water was confirmed by the EPA.

At the October 15 public meeting, DRBC director Collier was asked whether existing treatment plants in Pennsylvania have the capacity to treat chemicals such as 2-BE. She answered, "I don’t know."

Collier was also asked for clarification: "Are you saying that you plan to approve the withdrawal of a million gallons a day from the Delaware River without any plan to treat the resulting wastewater?"

The answer was yes: "We don’t ask that question [what will happen to the wastewater] when we are approving water withdrawal proposals."

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