Water Treatment

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Jersey Shore sewer plant ordered to stop treating ‘frac’ water

DEP: Sewer plant polluting river with drilling wastewater

June 24, 2009 - By PATRICK DONLIN — Special to The Express

JERSEY SHORE - Natural gas drilling wastewater emitted from Jersey Shore's sewage treatment plant potentially polluted the Susquehanna River so the borough has been ordered to stop, the state Department of Environmental Protection said.

While the borough collected more than $250,000 to treat the contaminated hydrofrac water since January, a recent inspection revealed serious violations of the borough's permit, DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni confirmed Tuesday.

"Basically, if you're exceeding limits in your permits, you are causing pollution," Spadoni said.

The plant was treating water used in the drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, but the excess discharges, Spadoni said, are hazardous to aquatic wildlife, though the agency is "not aware of any aquatic kills."

Borough Manager John Engle said 6,000 gallons of frac water is resting in a holding tank at the treatment plant, and the municipality will keep it there until the DEP tells him what to do with it.

Engle said the borough received the DEP notice Tuesday, and sent the environmental agency an e-mail later in the day.

Spadoni said the DEP will acknowledge that correspondence.

Wastewater from drilling must be disposed of at another approved facility, or be sent to the treatment plant at a significantly reduced rate approved by the DEP, Spadoni said, noting that any future acceptance of gas wastewater requires a prior DEP approval of an amended discharge permit.

Spadoni said the DEP sent a violation letter to the borough in April, which required the municipality to evaluate the wastewater acceptance process.

Last week, the DEP reportedly conducted a follow-up inspection at the plant, which Spadoni said revealed "significant problems," including the lack of proper pollutant load tracking, lack of proper flow restrictions and failure to follow proper sample analysis prior to pumping the wastewater into the treatment plant.

The borough faces two sets of DEP violations. Spadoni said it violated a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, and a gas well wastewater acceptance plan.

The DEP sent the borough an order to immediately stop accepting all gas wastewater delivered to the plant.

Fines and civil litigation have not come into play yet, but Spadoni hasn't ruled them out.

"We'll address that down the road, but not at this time," he said.

Engle revealed that the borough collected more than $250,000 from contractors since January. Although deductions were taken out for chemical and engineering costs, Engle said, "it was a profitable enterprise."

In excess of 3.6 million gallons of hydrfrac water were processed at the plant in about the past six months.

The DEP approved the borough's request to accept limited amounts of gas-drilling wastewater for disposal in July 2008.

When contacted, Engle didn't have a specific count of gallons treated from July to December. But during the past year, he said about 820,000 gallons would be treated at a monthly high point, to a monthly low mark of about 155,000 gallons.

Borough charges fluctuated from 6.5 cents to 8.5 cents per gallon.

Two tanks were used to hold the water from gas contractors, and Engle said these tanks - which could hold a combined capacity of 160,000 gallons - were not simultaneously used to contain borough sanitary sewage.

"These are extra tanks that we could use," Engle said.

And, he said, frac water from different wells was not mixed.

"Chemical analysis (of hydrofrac water from different well sites) is quite different from one to another," he said.

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