Waste Treatment, DEP respond to alleged violations

Warren-based Waste Treatment Corporation will enter into a second agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for allegedly violating state and federal laws by illegally discharging oil and gas wastewater into the Allegheny River.

“On September 3, 2013, the Department issued Waste Treatment Corporation a Notice of Violation based on its October 5th and October 18th, 2012 biological investigations. Those investigations found that WTC failed to control discharge to protect aquatic life in the Allegheny River, which constitutes violations of both the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Permit and the Clean Stream Act,” DEP said in a statement on Tuesday.

“On September 17th 2013, the DEP initiated a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court against Waste Treatment Corporation to compel compliance with Pennsylvania law and is currently working with Waste Treatment Corporation on a Consent Decree that will bring them into compliance. The Consent Decree will be published in the Pennsylvania bulletin for public comment prior to being submitted to the Commonwealth Court for approval and entry. Notice of the availability of the Consent Decree for public comment will also be made through a Department Press Release.”

Waste Treatment Corporation had agreed to pay a $100,000 fine for violations of its permit and the Clean Streams Law with the DEP on Aug. 5, 2011.

The DEP found between February 2005 and May 2011 WTC had not properly tested for pollutants; installed new equipment “to update the treatment process” without authorization from the DEP; continued to operate the new equipment without a permit and had not submitted a permit application; exceeded the limits of its permit to discharge total suspended solids, titanium, arsenic, cadmium, and failed to measure pH outfall, according to a copy of the agreement.

“Since we filed our Notice in July, neither Waste Treatment Corporation nor the DEP has taken any satisfactory action to protect the Allegheny River from high levels of gas drilling wastewater,” Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania state director of Clean Water Action, said on Monday.

The group also says WTC has continued to discharge 200,000 gallons per day of gas drilling wastewater into the Allegheny River and has violated the permit limits on discharges more than 400 times since 2010.

CWA filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania for violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act in July.

CWA said in court documents that the 2011 consent decree “did not cover any future violations” or provide any schedule for compliance.

“Waste Treatment was required by the Order to operate in compliance with its permit immediately,” the Notice of Intent said.

Mike Arnold, vice president of WTC, said the company is permitted to dispose of “oil and gas wastewaters and some industrial wastewaters as long as we are permitted…and at this point in time we really haven’t been.”

Arnold said he is aware of the 2012 study and the chlorides, radium 226 and 228 found in the riverbed by the DEP.

“It’s an accumulation of 27 years of processing, in my assumption,” he said. “We should’ve been checking the river every few years from day one to see if there’s been fallout.”

“We don’t receive radioactive waste here…,” he said adding the meters on site “are so sensitive if you have a (nuclear) stress test done you can’t come within 30 feet. We’ve never received a hit.”

Arnold said there is a certain amount of naturally-occurring radiation in brine, but “so little it won’t set off any of the detectors that are here.”

He added that high-level DEP staff have toured the plant and the company is not processing Marcellus shale wastewater but is bringing in the waste “for filtering and disposing at the Columbus injection wells.”

“None of that stuff goes throughout our treatment process…it hasn’t since May 19, 2011.”

Waste Treatment Corporation’s website says, “We do process the waters from Marcellus Shale.”

Records filed by WTC with the DEP between January and June 2013 show produced fluids from 14 different unconventional dry gas wells from Endeavor Operating Corp. in Cameron County and SWEPI LP in Tioga and Elk counties were sent to WTC. All but two of the wells are listed as horizontal wells.

David Yoxtheimer, extension associate with Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, told the Times Observer on Monday that produced fluid is brine water that is commonly produced with oil and gas.

“The produced fluids will have some naturally occurring radionuclides, primarily radium-226 that occurs in shale,” he said.

An October 2012 DEP study determined there were high levels of salts, metals, and radioactive compounds found downstream from WTC’s discharge pipe.

Testing upstream from WTC the study found “an aquatic community typical of the upper Allegheny River” and downstream from WTC’s discharge point found “a greater proportion of pollution-tolerant groups” and the “Differences among sites can be attributed to the WTC discharge, since no other factors were observed between the upstream and downstream stations.”