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The efforts of environmental regulators to stop improperly treated shale drilling wastewater from being disposed into state streams will carry the weight of law soon.
The Department of Environmental Protection is asking the shale gas operators in the state to certify by Monday, August 29, that they will not discharge wastewater to 15 facilities that were among those grandfathered into state regulations that restrict salty discharges.
Jamie Legenos, the DEP spokeswoman, said, “Operators are committing to stop taking wastewater to the listed facilities ever again.”
She said that the letter is legally enforceable because it is a crime to give false certification.
The new request goes further than DEP Secretary Michael Krancer’s call for operators to voluntarily halt the practice, an appeal which was seen as weak and unenforceable, even if most of the drillers were able to meet the May 19 deadline to refrain from using the grandfathered plants.
The certification letter, according to Ms. Legenos, was the quickest way for the department to transform the voluntary request into one that can be legally enforced.
Wastewater from shale drilling is many times saltier than seawater. It also contains metals and radioactivity dissolved from rock formations located approximately a mile beneath the surface. Conventional treatment plants, even the ones designed to treat industrial wastewaters, do not have the capability to remove all the contaminants found in shale drilling wastewater.
Elevated levels of bromides have already been detected in rivers located in western Pennsylvania. Bromides are nontoxic salts usually found in shale drilling wastewater, which when combined with chorine at water treatment plants, can develop into harmful compounds called trihalmethanes.