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August 10, 2011

Pennsylvania Suit Challenges Discharge of Gas Drilling Wastewater into the Monongahela River

Two Pennsylvania groups, Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper, filed suit in federal court on July 19, 2011, against the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport seeking to enjoin the Authority from accepting wastewater from gas drilling operations and discharging it into the Monongahela River. The river supplies drinking water for nearly a half million people, including a portion of the City of Pittsburgh. This is the first time a federal court case has been filed to stop the discharge of drilling wastewater in Pennsylvania.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to the Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law, claims that the Authority is in violation of the terms of its discharge permit because it did not disclose that it receives oil and gas wastewater at the time it applied for the permit. The complaint alleges that a subsequent order of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allowing McKeesport to discharge up to 100,000 gallons per day of Marcellus drilling wastewater into the Monongahela River cannot serve to modify the terms of the permit because a change in the wastestream processed pursuant to a permit requires approval from the permitting agency and public participation in the permitting process, including a public notice and comment period, before commencement of the discharge. Plaintiffs assert that the McKeesport Authority must apply to DEP for an amendment to their discharge permit in order to receive proper approval prior to taking in oil and gas wastewater.

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.

Ned Mulcahy, Executive Director for Three Rivers Waterkeeper, stated in the group's press release, “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.” The legal filing by Clean Water Action and Three Rivers Waterkeeper can be downloaded here.

Posted by Rachel Treichler at 08/10/11 9:35 AM



Copyright 2013, Rachel Treichler



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New York Water Law covers legal developments relating to water in New York and in jurisdictions that may be influential in New York. The author, Rachel Treichler, practices law in the Finger Lakes region.
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