Can You Hear Us Now?
Reading the presentation made earlier today by Aqua America, Inc. to the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission I kept hearing a voice in my head saying “Can you hear us now?” as the points made over and over again by natural gas industry about it’s ability to protect water supplies were made in spades by the Chairman and CEO of a water and wastewater utility serving 3 million people in 13 different states. Nick DeBenedictis has as much reason to care about water quality as just about anyone and here is some of what he told the Commission:
Among the conclusions of a recent study by Duke University is a finding consistent with the EPA (2004 study), the DEP, and industry experts that chemicals used to frac a well – frac fluid – have not appeared in shallow ground water. However, that’s not what we read in the newspapers. The headlines focused on another finding that the DEP also confirmed some time ago, that methane was found at elevated levels in some shallow private wells in areas where gas exploration also had occurred. Pre-drilling baseline data was not available for the wells in Duke’s study, and the study recommends that such testing be conducted in the future to more conclusively separate causality from co-occurrence.
The Duke study did not reveal anything new to the regulators, the industry or to Aqua. There are well construction and engineering solutions to minimize the risk of methane migration into shallow ground water, and there are water treatment methods to deal with methane in ground water whether it occurs
Like bromide, radioactive elements are naturally occurring underground and could be brought to the surface with the flowback of the fracking fluid. DEP has conducted tests in areas downstream of where treated flowback water was released and did not find any elevated levels of radioactive materials. We are conducting testing at our water treatment plants and have not found elevated levels of radioactivity.
Aqua Pennsylvania Is coordinating with DEP on Marcellus activities, and we,have reviewed existing safeguards as well as recommendations for future regulations (Act 92). We believe that there is low potential for adverse impacts on our water supplies from Marcellus Shale drilling activity in large part due to DEP’s effective regulations coupled with enforcement. To support DEP monitoring activities, we are taking steps to establish baseline water quality information for our supplies. We will be monitoring water quality more frequently and extensively than required by regulation whenever drilling activity Is occurring anywhere near one of our well supplies so that we can detect and respond to any water quality changes that might occur.
We have not seen any adverse impacts from Marcellus shale activity to date, but we are being prudently vigilant and doing increased monitoring.
We strongly support DEP’s recent policy to end the use of conventional wastewater treatment plants which were not specifically designed or equipped for treatment of wastewater from drilling operations prior to disposal into our Commonwealth’s surface waters. We believe the new DEP standards on TDS implemented in January 2011 allow for the adequate managment of fl0wback treatment. New rules restricting the treatment of flowback water at municipal plants that cannot properly treat it is an important move in protecting downstream water sources.
Aqua has been encouraged by the drilling industry, DEP, and other state and regional regulatory agencies to lend its expertise to analyze the challenges presented by the development of the Marcellus Shale, specifically in the management and treatment of production and flow-back water resulting from drilling operations into the shale formation.
Aqua shares the Commonwealth’s commitment to fully engage in the development and implementation of responsible strategies for water supply delivery, treatment, and recycling of flow-back water produced by development of the Marcellus Shale.
As one of the state’s – and the nation’s – largest water utilities, Aqua wishes to remain involved in the ongoing dialogue on this issue and contribute to the implementation of best practices. Marcellus Shale has the potential to provide Pennsylvania with an economic boost well into the future if it’s done right environmentally.
Anti-gas special interests are fond of discounting the economic benefits of natural gas development by arguing nothing is more important than clean water. Well, one of the major suppliers of that clean water – an entity whose very survival depends upon it – has just said we can have both. Can you hear us now?