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Toxic Wastewater Dumped in Streets and Rivers at Night: Gas Profiteers Getting Away With Shocking Environmental Crimes

Allan Shipman was found guilty of illegally dumping millions of gallons of natural gas drilling wastewater. But he's part of a much bigger problem.

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Recycling efforts, which are bringing much self-congratulation from the gas industry lately, also aren’t where they need to be at this point. Arnowitt says, “Recycling is not very regulated. You can get into these storage situations that can have lots of problems.” Such as the use of PVC pipes to move the reused water from well to well. “And it’s leaking in places. It’s not a very well contained process.” Moreover, Dufalla will point out that the word “recycling” is really a misnomer and should more accurately be stated as “reusing.”

At this moment, bromide levels continue to register elevated readings. Dr. Ziemkiewicz shared recent numbers showing the high level of 5.3 mg/L on June 27, 2012 from samples taken from Whiteley Creek in Greene County. Lloyd Richard of Carmichaels Water Authority says they are still struggling to keep their trihalomethane numbers in compliance. In late August or early September they will test a chlorine dioxide disinfecting system aimed at reducing high levels of THM. Down the road at the Tri-County Municipal Water Authority, where historically, they haven’t had the same type of problems as Carmichaels, plant manager Jeff Kovach says that since the high TDS levels of 2008, the authority still has had to send out letters “four or five times,” to alert their customers of high THM levels. Kovach, who has worked at Tri-County for 37 years, says that prior to 2008, the company’s THM levels weren’t an issue and they were never in violation.

David Argent, professor of wildlife and fisheries sciences at California University of Pennsylvania, shares his thoughts on the health of the Monongahela River today, the source of drinking water for nearly 1 million people. “The Monongahela has had a rather tragic history of water quality issues stemming from mining and hydrologic changes associated with the dams… Because the river serves as a drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people as well as a carrier of ‘treated’ waste and as a recreational destination for many, I am ever concerned that we have pushed the system beyond its assimilative capacity to provide us with clean water while at the same time carry our byproducts away. The fish communities we study certainly have recovered from mining, but there are new threats emerging that may not only impact fish, but also human health.”

With all of the money spent on machinery by the coal industry and the companies extracting oil and gas from the earth, the question has to be asked, why isn’t the same money invested in dealing with the second part of the process and cleaning up their own mess— in properly treating this massive amount of leftover waste? Dilution has become the treatment solution, an idea that drives Dufalla into fits of anger, as he mocks the waste experts call of dilution is the solution to pollution. But that’s not the best way, says Dufalla. “The best way is prevention. Prevention is the key to preservation.”

Says Arnowitt, “The oil and gas industry came in here pretty big in 2008, started drilling a lot of wells and all of a sudden they had millions of gallons of wastewater. They really hadn’t set up a real infrastructure for how to treat it. It's kind of like a chemical company came to Pennsylvania and said we’re going to build this big chemical plant, we need to start operating it right now, and yes, there’s going to be wastewater. We’ll get the wastewater treatment plant on line three years from now, but until then we’ll just have to figure out something else. That’s exactly what the gas industry did here. I think it was inevitable that someone like Allan Shipman would come along. The gas industry was willing to pay people money to take this waste off their hands. They weren’t predisposed to ask a lot of questions. And I think for Allan Shipman it was money he didn’t feel like he could refuse. And he didn’t have all the solutions worked out either with what to do with the stuff, so at a certain point he just figured out a way to get rid of it.”

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