The state Department of Environmental Protection Thursday issued a permit allowing a local company to treat and discharge 400,000 gallons per day of gas well wastewater into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
The agency issued the permit, the first of its kind in the West Branch watershed, to TerrAqua Resource Management LLC, a subsidiary of Larson Design Group.
The company requested the permit to build a gas drilling wastewater treatment operation at Water Tower Square in Williamsport.
SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Jennifer Jackson of South Williamsport paddles her kayak across the Susquehanna River at Riverfront Park in September 2009. TerrAqua Resource Management, a subsidiary of Larson Design Group, has been given permission to discharge wastewater from gas drilling operations into the river.
The permit requires the company to meet new and more stringent regulatory standards proposed by DEP, the agency said. The proposed regulations are 500 parts per million for total dissolved solids, or salts, and 250 parts per million for chlorides and sulfates.
It also requires the company to monitor for radioactivity, metals commonly found in gas drilling wastewater, according to the agency.
According to DEP, the company will use a thermal treatment process that can reduce total dissolved solids to less than the proposed limits. Thermal treatment involves the heating of water with high concentrations of salt and collecting the condensed vapor.
The company applied for the permit in August 2008. A public hearing regarding the permit was held last July and attended by about 150 people.
During that hearing, many people expressed concern that discharging wastewater from the gas industry could contaminate local waterways.
The DEP received almost 200 public comments regarding the permit, agency Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell said.
E-mailed responses by the agency to those questions were released along with the announcement the permit had been issued.
Yowell said he is confident monitoring requirements and discharge limits will adequately protect the river.
The company also has applied for a general permit allowing it to treat, recycle and reuse gas drilling wastewater for subsequent hydrofracturing operations, the agency said.
Gas industry officials have identified recycling and reuse as one of the most inexpensive and environmentally friendly ways of dealing with gas drilling wastewater.
According to Martin J. Muggleton, Larson Design Group vice president of marketing, the company expects to receive the latter permit by the end of the month. The facility should be in operation in April, he said.
A public hearing was not required for the recycling portion of the facility because it involves no discharge into the river, Muggleton said. Recycled water will be treated chemically.
The recycling facility will deal mainly with flowback water from gas drilling.
The permit issued Thursday is much more complex and is the first of two stages of permits needed to treat and discharge wastewater, Muggleton said. The stage one permit allows the discharge of up to 400,000 gallons of wastewater.
Stage two of the permit, which the company has yet to apply for, will be for "the specific facility design and specific technology related to the thermal process we will use," Muggleton said.
That portion of the facility, which mainly will deal with water that comes back to the well head over the life of the well, will probably not be online until 2012, "plus or minus," he said.
The company has yet to choose the exact type of thermal process it will use at the facility, Muggleton said.
Thermal technology is not that common, but there are a number of thermal processes in the market place to choose from, he said. The process will treat the water in conjunction with the chemical process.
The technology has been used by the natural gas industry, mainly out West, and has operated within the regulatory requirements of those states, he said.
"I'm confident it will do what we want it to do," Muggleton said, adding, "we want to do more than the minimum (requirements) because we live here."
According to DEP, the agency's Northcentral Regional office has nine other permit applications under review for proposed gas drilling wastewater treatment plants.
The plants are proposed in Lycoming, Bradford, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton and Tioga counties. Proposed discharge points include the Susquehanna, Chemung and Tioga rivers and several streams.