Sometimes raucus crowd confronts group threatening waste water suit

It was standing room only at a public meeting held at First Lutheran Church on Wednesday sponsored by Clean Water Action, the environmental group that has filed an intent to pursue legal action against Warren-based Waste Treatment Corporation for what it contends is an illegal discharge in the Allegheny River, and the West Side Alliance.

The vast majority of those in attendance sported hats with PIPP, Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers, and stickers that said “Our industry needs the services of WTC.”

Clean Water Action Pa. State Director Myron Arnowitt opened the session with a presentation outlining the case his group believes warrants potential litigation against WTC.

He explained that “Waste Treatment Corporation certainly started out taking waste water from conventional gas wells in the areas. What is happening right now, we have a question about; there is a discharge going on into the Allegheny River.

“However, all of the gas operations… report to the state that all the waste they are sending to Waste Treatment Corporation is to be recycled. We would like to understand that everyone is reporting,” Arnowitt explained “that this gas water is being recycled when clearly there is a discharge into the river. The samples found that there is a significant level of contaminants… from wastewater… We’re especially concerned… contamination of the riverbed is a concern. This is something that is building up in the river. (It) can get into the food chain.”

Mike Arnold, Vice-President of Waste Treatment Corporation, was in attendance and, while not taking questions, said “we’re a company in the community that provides jobs (and) a service to the oil and gas industry. We work very closely with DEP (Pa. Department of Environmental Protection) on the environmental issues.

“(We) will continue to go forward (and) do everything we can to continue to process and be an active business in the community.”

The remainder of the session, approximately an hour and a half, was opened as a question and answer session. While some questions were asked, more opinions were expressed by those in attendance on both sides of the issue some civil, some not.

Arnowitt was peppered with questions on the economic impact of potential litigation, the DEP testing that was conducted above and below the discharge site as well as whether DEP should really be the target of Clean Water Action.

“We have a big problem that DEP has not acted,” he said. “I think that is a real problem that DEP isn’t here, that DEP doesn’t want to talk to the public. We’re here to push them to do their job as much as anyone.”

Arthur Stewart challenged that assertion and noted that DEP “was the genesis” for wastewater treatment over 20 years ago. “How you equate that to the DEP being inactive strikes me as a mistruth. The water that is going though the plant is not Marcellus water… The brine going through there isn’t from the source that you say.”

Sam Harvey questioned whether the high degree of salt found in the river could be the result of salt applied to roads that “winds up in the hydrologic system. How does that compare to (the) overall impact of road salt?”

Arnowitt said that the test’s October date precludes the effect of road salt, but a flurry of questions were posed to him regarding whether Clean Water Action has tested the water. Arnowitt said they have not. Questions then were asked regarding why Clean Water Action would not want its own results, instead of relying on DEP tests, an entity they claim is inactive in this case, and WTC’s own testing.

Arnowitt noted that “just to be clear…we have just filed a notice. The way the Clean Water Act works” includes a 60-day period between the notice and the filing of a lawsuit “to try to work something out. We would welcome sitting down with Waste Treatment Corporation and DEP.”

When asked after the meeting what the meeting’s purpose was, Arnowitt told the Times Observer Clean Water Action felt that there was “not a lot of real information” out on the topic, noting that it was “important to have a conversation with the community.”