Tue Nov 3, 2009 5:15pm EST
By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA - Environmentalists have challenged the proposed construction of a plant that would process waste water from natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania's booming Marcellus Shale field, an activist group said on Tuesday.
Clean Water Action, a nonprofit, said the plant would discharge drilling waste into the Monongahela River in southwest Pennsylvania without testing for most of the toxic chemicals that form part of the fluid.
Clean Water Action accused the state's Department of Environmental Protection of illegally entering an agreement with Shallenberger Construction Inc, a water infrastructure contractor, to build the plant at Masontown in southwest Pennsylvania.
The plant would dump 500,000 gallons (1.9 million litres) of gas drilling waste water a day into the Monongahela River, violating federal clean-water standards, the group said.
The DEP has failed to control many of the chemicals that are used in hydraulic fracturing, a technique widely used to extract gas from deep deposits beneath Pennsylvania and parts of surrounding states, it added.
"Carcinogens like arsenic and benzene are required to be limited in our water to protect our health," said Myron Arnowitt, state director for Clean Water Action. "Yet DEP is not even testing for these dangerous toxins, let alone requiring some kind of treatment."
Clean Water Action, represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, called the agreement a "backroom deal" which was issued without any formal notice in an official state bulletin....
Critics say waste water from Marcellus drilling far exceeds the capacity of the state to process it so that it can be safely discharged into waterways.
Energy companies ... decline to specify the chemicals they use in fracking fluid, saying the mixture is proprietary, but contend they operate many safeguards that prevent any escape of the chemicals into water supplies.
The DEP issued 1,500 permits for drilling in the Marcellus from Jan. 1 to Oct. 23 this year, up from 476 for all of 2008 and 93 for the four years from 2003 to 2007, [DEP spokeswoman, Teresa] Candori said.
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(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Marguerita Choy)