Fledgling Company Awaits Approval for Fracking Wastewater Treatment Plant on Pennsylvania Headwaters

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Updated September 16, 2017 to include details of the company’s new application.

by Joshua B. Pribanic for newsCOUP at Public Herald, follow @jbpribanic @newscoup

A fledgling company, Epiphany Water Solutions (Pittsburgh, Pa.), has obtained a lease to build a fracking wastewater treatment plant along the headwaters of the Allegheny River in Coudersport, Pa.

Epiphany has proposed to install an untested distillation process, the first of its kind to be constructed, to take fracking wastewater — a.k.a. ‘flowback, produced water, or brine’ — and produce clean water. That clean water will then be sent to the wastewater treatment plant, who leased the property to Epiphany, and discharged back into the Allegheny River.

However, in a turn of events, DEP has denied Epiphany’s first application on three grounds: there was no “proof of public notification,” the Act 537 Sewage Planning was not addressed, and the Coudersport Area Municipal Authority (CAMA) failed to notify DEP of a change in the waste-stream as required by the NPDES permit.

In an email to Public Herald the Department stated, “DEP has returned the application because it did not meet standards for administrative or technical review because the required public notification was not completed. See the attached letter for more details. The company is expected to re-submit their application.”

The following is the official DEP denial letter to Epiphany Water Solutions.

Following the letter of denial the company re-submitted the application at the end of August. DEP has accepted the new application as of September 8, and the technical review of the application is underway with a target date of December 14, 2017.

The many questions and uncertainties following the developments of the Epiphany plant has created a new group of concerned citizens going under the name, Save The Allegheny. Stated on their facebook page, “special concern is the proximity of the frac wastewater treatment facility to the Coudersport Area Elementary School, downwind one mile from leased site.” The group is referring to waste holding tanks and the distillation process at the plant that would produce air quality pollutants from venting. Those concerns have not yet been addressed in a formal permit review of the facility.

Fracking wastewater that comes back to the surface after hydraulic fracturing contains a host of toxic compounds, some naturally occurring and some man-made. But, it also has uranium, which turns into radium, which makes the wastewater radioactive.

How radioactive? In particular, wastewater from shale in Pennsylvania is “anomalously high” according to Mark Engle, a USGS research geologist, who took part in a study on wastewater and talked with The Ledger back in 2013. That same article pointed out another study from New York that found radium levels in vertical wells over 1000 times higher than EPA’s limit for drinking water (5pCi/L). (New York would go on to ban fracking in the state, citing the health concerns and uncertainties associated with the technology.)

In fact, one of the ways companies find natural gas is by looking for radiation in the rock.

At public meetings Epiphany has stated they believe the levels of radiation from the fracking wastewater will be minimal, and removed by the treatment plant. However, no records have been provided by the company to the public to show if the clean water they produce will eliminate radioactive contaminants.

More is expected on this story from Public Herald in the coming months. Please stay tuned and follow our social media networks for updates, or subscribe to our newsletter.

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