TribLIVE

| Business

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Radioactive discharges from Marcellus shale fracking observed in Indiana County

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

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 dconti@tribweb.com.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Business Headlines

  1. FirstEnergy to build coal waste processing facility in Beaver County
  2. Small business hangs on fate of Export-Import Bank
  3. $2-per-gallon gas expected by year’s end, but not in Western Pa.
  4. Muni bond funds stressed
  5. Jaguar XJ flagship struggles to keep pace
  6. Chevy tweaks its truck remake
  7. 3 vehicles to keep an eye on for 2016
  8. Trib 30 index slips in July; 29 percent drop makes ATI biggest loser
  9. Insurers: F-150’s aluminum costly to repair
  10. FedEx faces in-depth probe of bid to buy Dutch express company
  11. Low fuel pressure may have easy fix