Groups File in Federal Court to Stop McKeesport Plant from Dumping Gas Drilling Wastewater in Pennsylvania Rivers

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

-- Lack of Mandatory State Action on Issue Prompts Suit --

(Pittsburgh) – Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper filed a suit in federal court today against the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport for their failure to get permits under the Clean Water Act to discharge wastewater from gas drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale.  This is the first time a federal court case has been filed to stop the current discharge of Marcellus drilling wastewater in Pennsylvania.

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The suit claims that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) bypassed permitting rules by allowing McKeesport to discharge up to 100,000 gallons per day of Marcellus drilling wastewater into the Monongahela River, which supplies drinking water for nearly a half million people, including a portion of the City of Pittsburgh.

“Some sewage plants have formally decided to stop taking any oil and gas wastewater.  However, McKeesport has taken no such action.  With the state failing to take any mandatory action to address this threat to our rivers, we can no longer wait,” stated Myron Arnowitt, PA State Director for Clean Water Action.

Franklin Township Municipal Authority, in Greene County, which was also named in a  ‘notice of intent to sue’ filing by the two groups in March has since voted to stop accepting any oil and gas drilling wastewater from any source.

Ned Mulcahy, Executive Director for Three Rivers Waterkeeper, stated, “The McKeesport facility is incapable of removing hazardous chemicals present in Marcellus Shale wastewater, yet it pours into the Monongahela just miles upstream from Penn-American and West View drinking water intakes.  Sadly, the Pennsylvania DEP, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency have all refused to take action to stop this dangerous practice.  When the agencies charged with protecting public health fail to do so, citizens have the right to take legal action to preserve their health and well-being.  This suit filed today jointly with Clean Water Action seeks to bring an end to these illegal discharges and protect the citizens of this region.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Pennsylvania, is seeking an injunction to immediately halt the acceptance of any oil and gas wastewater at the McKeesport sewage plant, and that the McKeesport Authority apply to DEP for an amendment to their discharge permit in order to receive proper approval prior to taking in oil and gas wastewater.

DEP Secretary Michael Krancer recently issued a statement to companies drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, asking them to stop taking wastewater to both sewage plants and other industrial treatment plants in the state.  DEP has asserted that they have achieved a fair level of voluntary compliance from gas drilling companies.

“While we are glad to see that DEP has been pressing companies to end this practice, we cannot rely on voluntary compliance to protect Pennsylvania’s rivers.  Too much is at stake with our water to trust that companies with such poor environmental records are going to do the right thing.  We need DEP and EPA to issues orders that would stop any treatment plant that doesn’t meet Pennsylvania’s new wastewater standards from taking oil and gas wastewater,” stated Arnowitt.

Pennsylvania enacted new rules in 2010 that set strict treatment standards for the discharging of oil and gas wastewater.  However, the regulations grandfathered in all existing plants in Pennsylvania that discharged to rivers and streams.  To date, only one treatment plant operating in the state can meet the new standard.

The legal filing from Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper can be [asset|aid=2722|format=link|formatter=asset|title=downloaded here|height=undefined|width=undefined].

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Clean Water Action has more than 120,000 members statewide in Pennsylvania and is the nation's largest grassroots group focused on water, energy and environmental health.  Clean Water Action's 1 million members, participate in Clean Water Action's programs for clean, safe and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, and creation of environmentally-safe jobs and businesses. Clean Water Action's nonpartisan campaigns empower people to make democracy work.

The mission of Three Rivers Waterkeeper is to ensure that communities throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania have safe water to drink, clean rivers to enjoy, and the means necessary to defend their right to both.  To accomplish this mission, Three Rivers Waterkeeper will engage in education and outreach, work with communities and their leaders, partner with government actors and NGOs, patrol the rivers, monitor water quality, and hold polluters accountable under the law.

Myron Arnowitt