Shell Cracker Wastewater Discharge Becomes an Issue

Environmentalists are accusing Shell of using a loophole to discharge wastewater at their future ethane cracker that will exceed state limits for TDS (total dissolved solids). The issue may sound familiar. In 2011 Pennsylvania “requested” that municipal sewage treatment plants without specially outfitted equipment stop accepting and processing Marcellus wastewater (see PA DEP, Marcellus Shale Coalition Admit Drilling Wastewater Likely Contaminating Drinking Water). Almost immediately, it stopped, which was a good thing for the environment. The problem with shale wastewater (i.e. produced water) is its high TDS content, including bromide. When bromide combines with chlorine used in wastewater treatment plants, it combines to produce trihalomethanes, which (in some studies) indicate increased levels of cancer in humans (see MDN In-depth: Marcellus Wastewater Discharges via Municipal Sewage Treatment Plants into PA Waterways). Nasty stuff. While the Shell ethane cracker will not process shale wastewater, it will produce water with TDS as part of its process. Shell plans to use a permit from the plant it is replacing, an old zinc smelting plant, to discharge a certain volume of water with TDS. Environmentalists say the volume they will discharge is too much and if the plant were not using a pre-existing permit (swapping ethane cracking for zinc smelting) the volume of wastewater they want to discharge would not be approved. That is, Shell is leveraging a loophole, a permit grandfathered in, and the volume of wastewater it will discharge may endanger humans downriver. Legit? Not legit?…

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