PHILADELPHIA Nov 3 Environmentalists have
challenged the proposed construction of a plant that would
process waste water from natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania's
booming Marcellus Shale field, an activist group said on
Clean Water Action, a nonprofit, said the plant would
discharge drilling waste into the Monongahela River in
southwest Pennsylvania without testing for most of the toxic
chemicals that form part of the fluid.
As energy companies rush to develop the vast Marcellus
field -- estimated to contain enough natural gas to meet total
U.S. needs for a decade or more -- opponents of hydraulic
fracturing, or "fracking", say chemicals used in the process
are contaminating aquifers used for drinking water, and
endangering the health of millions of people.
Clean Water Action accused the state's Department of
Environmental Protection of illegally entering an agreement
with Shallenberger Construction Inc, a water infrastructure
contractor, to build the plant at Masontown in southwest
The plant would dump 500,000 gallons (1.9 million litres)
of gas drilling waste water a day into the Monongahela River,
violating federal clean-water standards, the group said.
The DEP has failed to control many of the chemicals that
are used in hydraulic fracturing, a technique widely used to
extract gas from deep deposits beneath Pennsylvania and parts
of surrounding states, it added.
"Carcinogens like arsenic and benzene are required to be
limited in our water to protect our health," said Myron
Arnowitt, state director for Clean Water Action. "Yet DEP is
not even testing for these dangerous toxins, let alone
requiring some kind of treatment."
Clean Water Action, represented by the environmental law
firm Earthjustice, called the agreement a "backroom deal" which
was issued without any formal notice in an official state
The accusations come in an amended appeal to Pennsylvania's
Environmental Hearing Board which hears challenges to DEP
Teresa Candori, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the
department does not comment on pending litigation.
Shallenberger Construction did not immediately return a phone
call seeking comment.
Critics say waste water from Marcellus drilling far exceeds
the capacity of the state to process it so that it can be
safely discharged into waterways.
Energy companies such as Range Resources Corp. (RRC.N) and
Atlas America LLC ATLS.O -- both of which are active in
southwest Pennsylvania -- decline to specify the chemicals they
use in fracking fluid, saying the mixture is proprietary, but
contend they operate many safeguards that prevent any escape of
the chemicals into water supplies.
The DEP issued 1,500 permits for drilling in the Marcellus
from Jan. 1 to Oct. 23 this year, up from 476 for all of 2008
and 93 for the four years from 2003 to 2007, Candori said.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Marguerita Choy)