New Rules to Protect Pennsylvania Rivers From Drilling Wastewater

June 21, 2010
Regulations Now Need Approval from State House, Senate

New rules approved last week by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission will protect Pennsylvania’s streams and drinking water supplies against total dissolved solids (TDS) pollution from Marcellus Shale drilling wells and other sources from storm water runoff.

Governor Edward G. Rendell said the new TDS rules will ensure that rivers and streams in Pennsylvania do not exceed the safe drinking water standard of 500 mg per liter. The rules also will protect businesses by grandfathering all existing discharges and allowing businesses to use a stream’s ability to absorb those discharges while not exceeding drinking water standards.

“Today’s IRRC vote is a great step forward in our efforts to protect one of the state's greatest natural and economic assets—our waterways,” said Rendell. “Millions of Pennsylvanians rely on the state’s rivers and streams for drinking water; countless numbers of our residents and visitors from out-of-state come here to fish these waters or use them for recreation; and some of our largest industrial employers wouldn’t be able to operate here if not for the clean, reliable supply of water they offer. So, we cannot allow new, heavily polluted sources of wastewater to contaminate them.”

“That's why these regulations are so important,” added the governor, who noted the approved regulations now await review from the environmental resources and energy committees in the state house and senate.

The proposed regulations will require drillers to treat drilling wastewater to 500 mg/l or to drinking water quality at the discharge pipe if they choose to return drilling wastewater to rivers and streams. Drillers have several options to dispose of wastewater in Pennsylvania, including reuse or recycling, disposal in deep caverns when permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or full treatment to the 500 mg/l for TDS standard.

The last option will only work if polluted water is properly treated to reduce high TDS levels. Several states, including Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Iowa, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee, prohibit returning any drilling wastewater to streams.

The panel also approved new regulations to enhance existing rules governing erosion, sediment control and storm water to protect streams from the effects of new development, reduce localized flooding during heavy storms, and cut sediment and nutrient pollution. The new rules, which also include an updated permit fee structure, bring Pennsylvania into compliance with federal requirements for:
• Erosion and sedimentation controls and post-construction storm water runoff;
• Creating mandatory requirements for establishing and protecting existing streamside and riverside buffers in high quality and exceptional value watersheds; and
• Enhancing agricultural storm water management provisions beyond plowing and tilling to include animal-heavy use areas.

Source: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor