Dumping of Fracking Wastewater Not Hurting Water Supplies, PA Officials Claims

A Pennsylvania regulator is defending the way the state regulates hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, after the Associated Press reported that Pennsylvania is the only state which allows partially-treated fracking wastewater to be dumped into lakes, streams and rivers. John Hanger, the outgoing secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), told the Associated Press that disposal regulations enacted by his department this past August are adequate to protect water supplies.

Most states require drillers to dispose of fracking wastewater – which can contain large amounts of salt, as well as toxins like barium and strontium – by injecting it into shafts located deep underground. But according to the Associated Press report, drillers in Pennsylvania were allowed to dump 3.6 million barrels of fracking wastewater into state waterways in the 12-month period that ended June 30.

The wastewater could be contaminating water supplies far from areas where fracking is taking place. According to the Associated Press, fracking waste that makes it into the state’s Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, for instance, will eventually flow past 20 public drinking-water intakes, past Pittsburgh’s drinking water plants, and all the way to the Tri-County Joint Municipal Authority on the Monongahela in Fredericktown, 20 miles from West Virginia.

The Associated Press investigation found that some public water utilities downstream from big gas wastewater treatment plants have struggled to stay under the federal maximum for contaminants known as trihalomethanes, which can cause cancer if swallowed over a long period. While trihalomethanes aren’t found in fracking waste, they can occur when bromide in the waste reacts with the chlorine disinfectants used by water authorities to treat drinking water, the Associated Press said.

According to today’s report, the state’s recently adopted regulations on fracking wastewater discharges allowed existing operations to continue putting partially treated wastewater into rivers and streams, as long as the water body’s quality does not fall below federal drinking water standards. Hanger told the Associated Press that his department has been monitoring rivers for drops in water quality, but so far have found none. He maintained that no river used for drinking water has exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency standard for dissolved solids for an extended period, although there have been some instances of seasonal spikes that can last for a few days.

Concerns over the river dumping have prompted the state’s major gas drillers to start recycling their wastewater. Hanger told the Associated Press that about 70 percent of the wastewater is now being recycled. Still, operators of the largest of the state’s 16 most commonly used treatment plants say they haven’t lost much business operators of the largest of the state’s 16 most commonly used treatment plants say they haven’t lost much business, according to the Associated Press.

Records verifying drilling industry claims that river disposal of fracking wastewater has been substantially reduced won’t be available until mid-winter, the report said.

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