PA Secretary of Environmental Protection Says Marcellus Wastewater Discharge is Affecting Waterways

The Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), John Hanger, released a press statement yesterday expressing concerns over Marcellus drilling wastewater being released into PA waterways.

From the DEP website:

HARRISBURG — High levels of total dissolved solids pollution from natural gas drilling and other sources pose a real threat to Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers, including aquatic life, warned Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger today.

“The treating and disposing of gas drilling brine and fracturing wastewater is a significant challenge for the natural gas industry because of its exceptionally high TDS concentrations,” said Hanger. “Marcellus drilling is growing rapidly and our rules must be strengthened now to prevent our waterways from being seriously harmed in the future.”

Hanger pointed to recent examples where TDS impaired streams and affected major sources of drinking water.

In 2008 and 2009, TDS levels exceeded drinking water standards along the Monongahela River, which is a major source of drinking water. Drinking water treatment plants do not have the equipment available to remove TDS, so any water polluted with TDS goes into Pennsylvania’s homes and businesses.

Similarly, in early September 2009, excessive TDS levels led to an environmental disaster that wiped out 26 miles of Dunkard Creek in Greene County, as well as many miles of the creek in West Virginia. These high TDS concentrations, coupled with other factors such as temperature and nutrient concentrations, enabled golden algae to bloom and created an inhospitable environment for aquatic life. The algae released toxins to the water column that literally wiped out aquatic life, including at least 16 species of freshwater mussels and 18 species of fish.

Dunkard Creek is an example of what can happen if TDS is not controlled, said Hanger, and the loss of this important public resource was an environmental and economic tragedy.

TDS is a measure of all elements dissolved in water that can include carbonates, chlorides, sulfates, nitrates, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. In addition to natural gas drilling, other sources of TDS include, abandoned mine drainage, agricultural runoff, and discharges from industrial or sewage treatment plants.*

*DEP Press Release (Apr 6) – PA Must Take Action to Protect Water Resources from Drilling Wastewater, Other Sources of TDS Pollution

  • MikeGilbert

    Why does Hanger blame Dunkard Creek on Gas Drilling activity when the EPA, WV DEP, and WV Water Research Institute all agree that he is wrong?

  • jmw4164

    New York beware. The Secretary has no need to misrepresent what he understands to be the facts and no need to take on extra work unless he believed that his duty required him to seek regulation of the flowback witches brew.

  • mordantespier


    Where have the EPA, WV DEP, and WV Water Research Institute ever all agreed about exactly how the fish kill was caused? As I understand, the investigation is ongoing, and the cause still “undetermined”.

    The latest I’ve heard is that Consol accepted drilling waste from its subsidiary CNX and injected it into a disposal well in Blacksville #1. The waste seeped from #1 to #2 in ways that are poorly understood. The company then pumped the waste out of #2 into the creek so they could mine. There has been no official report stating this.

    Clearly there’s multiple causes. The TDS levels fed algae, which multiplied because of warm weather and abundant TDS food. Did warm weather cause the fish kill? Yes, but warm weather usually doesn’t cause fish to die.

    In fact, you could probably also say the WV DEP “caused” the fish kill by not adequately monitoring what came out of the mine and then not shutting down dumping into the mine.

    The simple mine discharge was a problem too, contributing to the total level of TDSs. And Hanger clearly lists all other sources that could have contributed to high TDS levels. This doesn’t mean gas drilling waste wasn’t a problem, but that maybe we need to take another look at mining, deep injection wells, and agricultural runoff.

    Golden algae aren’t usually found in PA even with warm weather and acid mine drainage. Where did the algae come from?

    And none of these contributions prevent other sorts of waste dumping, including clandestine dumping of flowback waste, from being important causes. In fact, clandenstine dumping could be a significant cause, which has not been determined yet.

    The problem of flowback waste from “simulating” (i.e. fracking) coalbed methane formations has not been solved, much less the problem of flowback from higher volume and exponentially increasing Marcellus drilling. Both cause waterway problems because of TDS levels. Both use undisclosed chemicals. Just because old practices haven’t received as much attention doesn’t mean they are safe, even on a smaller scale than that on which Marcellus drilling will occur.

  • Jim

    mordantespier: Thanks for your additional information on the situation at Dunkard Creek.