By Cindy Rank
Salt, salt, salt ??? Radioactivity???
While the debate rages in trade magazines as to just what might be the accurate long-term predictions for gas prices, availability of shale gas, and even the sustainability of current production levels, a multitude of support facilities are being proposed and permitted (i.e. new and upgraded compressor stations, cracker plants, ethane and gas storage hubs, processing plants, water treatment plants) and plans for major pipelines proceed as if nothing stands in their way.
In the onslaught of all this activity, it’s difficult to pick and choose your battles, difficult to pinpoint and focus attention on whatever Achilles Heel might be capable of stopping the madness or slowing it down to at least allow for reasonable and comprehensive and cumulative assessments about the wisdom and limitations and necessity for such development.
In the midst of this confusion we deal with individual operations and the most egregious of transmission pipelines, knowing full well that the current drilling experimentation and exploration will only expand if and when more of industry’s infrastructure desires are fulfilled.
In recent actions the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has joined West Virginia Rivers Coalition and local residents in an appeal of a permit for a several hundred acre salt dump (i.e. solid waste landfill) adjoining the Antero Clearwater Facility now being constructed near the Doddridge/Richie County line on Route 50 about midway between Clarksburg and Parkersburg, near West Union, WV.
As the facility name implies, the multilayered treatment system is meant to receive and treat millions of gallons of gas drilling wastewater from the various Marcellus shale gas wells from hither and yon and render that toxic goop into water ‘clear’ enough to be trucked to and reused for further fracing at well sites in the area.
The residue from the treatment process is mainly salt – not your ordinary table salt, though reference has been made for the eventual possibility that future beneficial uses haven’t been ruled out – and other questionable solids that will contain concentrated NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material) that has been sucked out of the depths of the earth along with various other constituents.
Our appeal before the WV Environmental Quality Board challenges the issuance of WV/NPDES Permit WV0117579 and the associated landfill permit for the solid waste landfill officially owned and operated by Antero Treatment, LLC. We believe the permit was issued without adequate protections against contamination from radioactive materials and without appropriate and enforceable discharge limits.
The appeal asks for an order vacating the NPDES Permit and the associated landfill permit, and for the WV DEP (WV Department of Environmental Protection) to modify the permit to protect against the disposal and discharge of radioactive materials and to set technology and water quality based discharge limits.
Following are the general objections noted in the appeal.
— On May 25, 2017 the WVDEP issued and approved a combined WV/NPDES Permit and solid waste landfill permit to Antero Treatment LLC, for the development and operation of a solid waste landfill to receive salt from the nearby Antero Clearwater Facility. The permitted operation area of the landfill is approximately 447 acres, with 134 acres of disposal area.
— WV/NPDES Permit WV0117579 allows the discharge of stormwater and associated pollutants from 13 outfalls into unnamed tributaries of Cabin Run and unnamed tributaries of Dotson Run all of the Hughes River, a major tributary to the Little Kanawha River that flows into the Ohio at Parkersburg.
— This permit was issued without any final effective numeric limits at any outfall to protect water quality standards. There was no evaluation for the potential for radioactivity from waste to be disposed of at this site, and no numeric effluent limitation set that would be sufficient to protect water quality standards related to radioactivity.
— While the permit places a limit on disposal of salts “if the combined concentration for salt from Radium 226 and Radium 228 are greater than 5pCi/gr above [the] local background level,” the monitoring requirements associated with this limit are not protective, and may allow for the disposal of material with radioactivity several times the permitted limit.
i.e. Radiation detectors installed at landfill gates (as proposed at the Clearwater salt landfill) have limited effectiveness at accurately quantifying the alpha radiation activity from Radium contained in drilling wastes since, due to the low penetrability of alpha particles, the waste itself and the waste container tend to block the alpha particles from ever reaching the detector.
We contend there is a need to include monitoring requirements sufficient to protect against the disposal of radioactive materials on site, and to impose effluent limits to protect against the discharge of radioactive materials in discharges from the site.
— The permit does not place any numeric permit limits on any other parameters, but rather relies on “report and monitor only” requirements and “stormwater benchmarks.” In response to comments on the issue, WVDEP claimed that the facility was exempt from NPDES requirements for numeric limits because it is an excluded from the definition of “industrial activity” pursuant to 40 C.F.R. 122.26. This assumption is mainly due to the contention that the waste product is wholly a product of the Clearwater facility – this despite the fact that the input to the facility will be wastewater from many different drilling sites, all of which may have different levels of pollutants associated with their wastewater.
— We assert that this facility IS an “industrial activity” within the meaning of 40 C.F.R. 122.26 and therefore should be subject to NPDES requirements including those to impose technology based limits for landfills and water quality based limits to protect water quality standards in the receiving streams.
— While bromide is included as a parameter of concern for groundwater monitoring it is not subject to monitoring requirements for surface water discharges.
[Note: Increased wastewater discharges from Marcellus gas drilling operations upstream were fingered as the culprit responsible for a 2011 spike in bromide levels in the Allegheny River in Western Pennsylvania. The unanticipated rise put some public water suppliers into violation of federal safe drinking water standards. Bromide facilitates formation of brominated trihalomethanes, also known as THMs, when it is exposed to disinfectant processes in water treatment plants. THMs are volatile organic liquid compounds. Studies show a link between ingestion of and exposure to THMs and several types of cancer and birth defects — an especially serious concern where surface water is or is potentially to be used as a public drinking water supply.]
The hearing before the Environmental Quality Board is scheduled for mid-December. Stay tuned.