Radioactive discharges from Marcellus shale fracking observed in Indiana County
State environmental regulators and owners of an Indiana County water treatment plant say they've been working for years to avoid any more of the radioactive Marcellus shale discharge that Duke University researchers found in a study published on Wednesday.
“DEP is very well aware of this,” Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz said about the study that called radiation levels in Black Lick Creek alarming.
The agency and Josephine treatment plant owner Fluid Recovery Services signed an agreement in May that bars the facility from accepting, treating or discharging wastewater from unconventional drilling operations, such as those used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale through hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”
The agreement and related fines from the Environmental Protection Agency came from tests in 2011 that showed excessive levels of radioactive chemicals in the creek's sediment near the plant.
Study co-author Avner Vengosh, a professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, said isotopes in the water that researchers sampled for more than two years indicate the plant continued to treat and release wastewater from Marcellus fracking sites even though the plant and the DEP said it stopped in 2011.
Devesh Mittal, vice president of Canonsburg-based Aquatech, which bought Fluid Recovery Services this year, denied that claim.
“We haven't done that since 2011,” he said.
The study adds to a nascent but growing body of research on fracking that continues to provide an inconsistent picture of potential environmental impact. DEP is conducting a sweeping study of all possible impacts around drilling.
DEP knows that both fracking and conventional drilling can free naturally occurring radioactivity from rock formations and leave it in wastewater, Kasianowitz said. The May agreement says Black Lick Creeks's radioactive sediment, while above accepted levels, posed no immediate risk to people passing by.
Vengosh said data from the peer-reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, showed the ratio of fracking wastewater in the creek decreased but never disappeared.
“How does the facility know what's in the trucks” that drillers bring, Vengosh asked. “It could be mixed.”
Kasianowitz said regulators monitor what the plant discharges and have been back to the Josephine plant since May to ensure no more fracking water is treated or discharged.
The agreement calls for Aquatech to upgrade the Josephine plant and two others so they can accept and properly treat Marcellus wastewater with high radioactive levels. Mittal said the EPA estimated the cost at $30 million per plant, although he would not say how much the company is spending.
“We are building the infrastructure to help this industry prosper,” he said.
David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Indian firm plans exports of ethane from U.S. shale fields
- EDMC to cut costs, roll out new grant
- UPMC earnings turn positive, but pressures mount
- Auto sales increase along with subprime loans
- Energy sector powers Pa. pace
- GE could trade in appliance division
- Target cuts annual profit outlook
- HTC to construct Windows version of flagship phone
- Sprint cancels Framily, rolls out new data pricing plan
- Berkshire socked with $896K penalty
- Shared offices provide advantages for startups, nonprofits, others