PA Rep Jesse White to Introduce Law Banning Open Frack Ponds

PA State Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Cecil with an ongoing grudge match with Range Resources (and someone who claims to be in favor of responsible drilling), will soon introduce a bill into the PA legislature that would ban Marcellus Shale wastewater frack ponds. He’s looking for co-sponsors for the legislation and using the new Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) as his political cover/excuse to push for it.

White incorrectly states the CSSD’s new standards call for the elimination of open impoundments or frack ponds. Standard #3 says no open ponds for fracking fluid, but Standard #4 says open frack ponds are permissible for "produced" or "flowback" water—the deep layer salt water that comes out after the drilling fluid has been removed (see MDN’s summary of the rules here: Important: Drillers & Enviros Form New Group, Launch Cert Program). Although he uses the CSSD for justification, White’s proposal goes well beyond what they’re stipulating…

One local lawmaker wants the state to ban Marcellus Shale wastewater impoundments—or frac ponds—and began seeking co-sponsors Friday for a bill he intends to introduce on the matter.

"Wastewater impoundments are NOT an industry best practice, as per the industry itself. The new Center for Sustainable Shale Development, which includes industry partners Shell, Chevron, CONSOL and EQT, recently identified eliminating wastewater impoundments as one of their performance standards," state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, wrote in a memo to colleagues on Friday. "Unfortunately, less reputable operators will not be bound by these standards and will continue to dump this hazardous material in this highly dangerous manner. Wastewater impoundments are banned in North Dakota and are not used in Texas and other drilling-friendly states."

Under White’s proposed legislation, "freshwater" impoundments—used to store water before the hydraulic fracturing begins—would still be permitted for a period of seven days and then would have to be closed.

"Under no circumstances would wastewater, produced water, flowback water, drill cuttings or any similar waste be permitted in the freshwater impoundment," White wrote. "(The Department of Environmental Protection) announced last week that they would begin testing for radiation in this wastewater, as it can contain naturally-occurring radioactive material brought up as part of the drilling process."

The lawmaker noted that currently, a company can build a freshwater impoundment then convert it to a wastewater impoundment and haul hazardous material from anywhere and dump it there.

"Even if there are no leaks, the water evaporates and the chemical emissions into the air can present a serious health hazard for nearby residents. Under Act 13, water impoundments are a permitted use in all zoning districts, including residential; not only would municipalities have no way to regulate them, the municipality and the residents have no way of knowing they even exist," according to White. "Just (recently), we learned about a possible leak at an impoundment in my hometown in Washington County of a 12,000,000 gallon wastewater impoundment no one even knew was there because it was built on top of a hill. This impoundment was originally built as a freshwater impoundment and then converted through a simple permitting process with the DEP."

White was referring to the Worstell impoundment in Cecil Township.*

    *Canon-McMillanPatch (Apr 13, 2013) – Local State Representative to Introduce Bill Banning Marcellus Shale Wastewater Impoundments