EBENSBURG - The state's plan to regulate dissolved solids being discharged into Pennsylvania waterways received praise and criticism Tuesday.
In the second of four hearings statewide on proposed regulations that have been driven by a boom in recent Marcellus Shale drilling operations, supporters and critics both agreed that the state should more closely regulate the amount of dissolved solids that end up in streams, lakes and public water but differed greatly on how it should be done.
"The rapidly expanding development of Marcellus Shale drilling presents a real potential to harm commonwealth [waters]," said Chuck Winters of Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited. He said the state should have acted sooner.
But while Winters and others suggested drilling permits be halted until strict regulations are in place, others argued the Department of Environmental Protection's plan should be halted or tossed until a better alternative can be found.
"This proposal is premature," said Ken Yingling, environmental manager for Amfire Mining Co., which operates 21 mines in Pennsylvania.
He called the state's current proposal "a giant regulatory leap based neither on sound science or economic realities."
December 2009: Public hearings held across Pennsylvania
Feb. 5: Public comment period ends
February-December 2010: Review and regulatory steps planned
January 2011: New rules take effect
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
As written, the DEP wants to regulate new discharges into state waterways, setting daily and monthly limits for total dissolved solids as well as other limits for specific ones, such as 250 mg per liter of sulfate or chloride and 10 mg per liter of barium in wastewaters from the oil and gas industry.
A measure of total dissolved solids calculates the amount of salts, organic matter or minerals in water.
High levels of total dissolved solids found in the Monongahela River this fall - part of a study critics said was too limited - help spur the proposal, the DEP said.
There are no specific regulations on total dissolved solids - at a time when the Marcellus Shale-driven gas industry could be discharging millions of gallons of wastewater daily into the state's waterways, environmentalists contend.
In the DEP's report, officials raised concerns that discharges are already adversely impacting many waterways and can't take any more.
"Dilution can no longer be considered an adequate treatment," DEP Secretary John Hanger wrote.
While some who spoke against the regulations agreed that there are better ways to monitor and regulate dissolved solids, all of them called the state's proposal unrealistic and expensive.
Yingling said it could cost industries as much as $49,000 per gallon, per minute - and millions of dollars annually to meet proposed standards.
And there's no "best technology" out there to do the job, he added.
New rules could take effect as soon as January 2011.