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July 19, 2011

Environmental Groups Sue City Authority Over 'Fracking' Water

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Two environmental groups have gone ahead with their threat to sue the city's sewage treatment authority over its acceptance of wastewater from so-called "fracking" operations.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Pittsburgh, Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper demand an immediate injunction to force the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport to stop accepting water from natural gas drilling companies.

But Mayor Regis McLaughlin, who chairs the sewerage authority board, says the plant hasn't taken any fracking water since the state on April 19 asked McKeesport's authority and 14 others to stop the practice.

McLaughlin said a request for an injunction is "unnecessary."

"I think they're just trying to get us to say on the record that we're not taking any more fracking water --- and we're not," he told the Almanac.

. . .

Filed on behalf of three Western Pennsylvania residents, the lawsuit alleges that the authority's plant in lower 10th Ward can't adequately remove hazardous chemicals and heavy metals from "fracking" water.

Instead, the lawsuit claims, those chemicals and other so-called "total dissolved solids" from fracking water are being discharged, along with treated sewage, into the Monongahela River in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and the state's Clean Streams Law.

"Some sewage plants have formally decided to stop taking any oil and gas wastewater," said Myron Arnowitt, state director for Clean Water Action, a national non-profit based in Washington, D.C. "However, McKeesport has taken no such action. With the state failing to take any mandatory action to address this threat to our rivers, we can no longer wait."

In March, Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper warned two sewerage authorities --- McKeesport's and one in Greene County --- that they were considering a federal lawsuit over what they called "significant and ongoing violations" of environmental laws.

. . .

Companies that drill for natural gas in the Marcellus shale layer deep underground use a process called "hydraulic fracturing," or "fracking," to release the gas trapped in the rock. The fracking process requires a mix of water and chemicals to be forced under high pressure into the rock layer. The contaminated water is then pumped out of the wells.

To generate additional income, McKeesport's sewage treatment plant and others have been charging drilling companies to treat used fracking water.

The letter sent to the sewerage authority on March 10 alleges that the authority's operating permits do not give permission for the treatment plant to accept fracking water, which can be contaminated by hazardous chemicals, metals and salts.

"The authority does not have the treatment capabilities to treat for the high levels of total dissolved solids, bromides and many other constituents ... and is relying on mere dilution to 'treat' the industrial wastewater from shale gas development," said the letter, signed by Emily Collins of Pitt's Environmental Law Center and by Ned Mulcahy and Patrick Grenter of Three Rivers Waterkeeper, based in Homestead.

. . .
Although the state passed stricter water quality standards in 2010, McKeesport's plant and others statewide, including one in Clairton, were "grandfathered" and allowed to keep accepting fracking water.

On April 19, the state Department of Environmental Protection asked those plants to voluntarily stop the practice, and McLaughlin said McKeesport has complied.

The sewerage authority is about to begin a two-year, $60 million expansion program at the 10th Ward plant.

Although the current expansion program does not include facilities to treat fracking water, McLaughlin said the authority has met with vendors who sell equipment that removes chemicals from fracking water.

The authority will consider installing the equipment if it's approved by state regulators, McLaughlin said, "but until the DEP OK's it, we're not taking any other actions."

. . .

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three customers of Pennsylvania-American Water Company who get their drinking water from a plant along Carson Street in Pittsburgh, downstream from McKeesport. The suit alleges that water samples taken in the Monongahela downstream from McKeesport on four different days in October 2010 found high levels of heavy metals, radioactive materials and other pollutants.

Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper allege that the chemicals can damage residential plumbing, foul the taste of drinking water and cause unknown future health problems. In addition to an injunction, the lawsuit demands reimbursement for attorneys fees and costs.

A formal response from the authority will come from its solicitor, Kenneth Kohl, in a few days, McLaughlin said.

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Feedback on “Environmental Groups Sue City Authority Over 'Fracking' Water”

Why on earth would a water treatment facility take on contaminated water that it’s not equipped to properly treat and how much additional income was generated from this period? Seems obvious to me that had they not been caught, they’d still be doing it.

By the way, I have a bridge to sell just down the way a bit.
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