UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
1650 Arch Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103-2029
MAR 7 2011
The Honorable Michael Krancer, Acting Secretary
Pennsylvania Department ofEnvironmental Protection
Rachel Carson State Office Building
400 Market Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101
Dear Secretary Krancer:
The natural gas industry in Pennsylvania has grown with remarkable
speed as the development of the Marcellus Shale proceeds.
Natural gas is a key part of our energy independent future, but the
rapid expansion of drilling activity in the Commonwealth places a
special responsibility on our agencies and the U.S. to ensure that
natural gas extraction is done safely and with public health protection
as a priority.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) has
undertaken a number of important steps to strengthen protections.
Examples include enhanced regulatory requirements for gas drilling
operations; additional effluent standards for new and expanding
wastewater treatment facilities that accept wastewater from gas
drilling operations; and expanded ambient water quality monitoring to
include chemicals that could indicate the presence of incompletely
treated drilling wastewater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) supports these actions and urges you to implement them
Nevertheless, several sources of data, including reports required by
PADEP, indicate that the wastewater resulting from gas drilling
operations (including flowback from hydraulic fracturing and other
fluids produced from gas production wells) contains variable and
sometimes high concentrations of materials that may present a threat to
human health and aquatic environment, including radionuclides, organic
chemicals, metals and total dissolved solids. Many of these substances
are not completely removed by wastewater treatment facilities, and
their discharge may cause or contribute to impaired drinking water
quality for downstream users, or harm aquatic life. In addition, high
concentrations of these substances may adversely impact the treatment
facilities themselves, impairing their ability to remove fecal coliform
and other common contaminants in domestic sewage.I believe it is
critical to investigate the presence of these substances in the treated
drinking water in affected watersheds and to inform the public as to
whether and at what levels radionuclides occur in their water supply.
At the same time, it is equally critical to examine the persistence of
these substances, including radionuclides, in wastewater effluents and
their potential presence in receiving waters. Such knowledge will be
the basis for imposing the controls necessary to ensure that public
health and the aquatic environment· are protected.
The most important near-term step is requiring community water systems
(CWSs) near publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) and centralized
wastewater treatment (CWT) facilities receiving Marcellus Shale
wastewater to conduct sampling immediately for radionuclides. Since, in
previous monitoring, radionuclides were not detected or were detected
at levels less than one-half of maximum contaminant levels, the CWS
have not sampled after the introduction of Marcellus Shale operations.
Discharges from these operations could increase radionuclide levels
substantially. To ensure public safety, additional sampling is needed.
We understand that PADEP is considering requiring such sampling.
We are aware that PADEP has announced results of in stream ambient
water samples for radionuclides that were below federal drinking water
standards for radium. Since concentrations of radionuclides may vary
according to the source and volume of wastewater and receiving stream
flow, we encourage sampling regimes that will account for such
variability. We would like to discuss the sampling design with you. To
facilitate these discussions, please provide the Region, as soon as
possible, with (i) a list of the community water systems that will be
required to conduct expedited monitoring, (ii) sampling parameters and
frequency, and (iii) your schedule for initiating and completing these
actions. It is my belief that, within 30 days, a sampling plan can be
developed and initial samples collected.
Another critical step which we have previously discussed is to reopen
the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits of
POTWs and centralized waste treatment facilities that are currently
accepting gas drilling wastewater for treatment. These permits do not
now include critical provisions necessary for effective processing and
treatment of wastewaters from drilling operations. Again, it is welcome
that you intend to reopen these permits. We encourage you to establish
monitoring requirements and effluent limits to ensure protection of
drinking water and aquatic life. To coordinate with PADEP productively,
I ask that you provide the following information: (i) the identities
and locations ofall NPDES facilities in Pennsylvania accepting
Marcellus Shale wastewater, (ii) a list ofthe permits you plan to
reopen and the parameters you plan to consider for reasonable potential
analysis, and (iii) a schedule for completing the permit modifications.
To augment these actions, EPA will be taking additional steps directly
using our authorities. In Region III, these include, but are not
limited to, issuing Clean Water Act information requests to CWT
facilities and POTWs for compliance determinations and evaluation of
the adequacy of NPDES permits; using pre-treatment authorities to
ensure appropriate record keeping, reporting, and local limits for
POTWs accepting this type of wastewater; and conducting inspections at
well sites, associated construction activity, and treatment facilities.
We welcome your participation in these inspections, and I have
instructed my staff to coordinate with yours to commence these
inspections as soon as possible.
In parallel, EPA will be sending very soon, a letter to CWT facilities
and POTWs in the Marcellus Shale region attaching a set of Q&As
providing guidance on all applicable legal requirements. Additionally,
under the Safe Drinking Water Act, we will proceed with permit
application review and issuance of Class II-D underground injection
wells for disposal of fluids associated with gas production; inspection
of permitted disposal wells; and enforcement of existing Underground
Injection Control permits.
Further, we will be working with PADEP's Harrisburg and Regional
offices on several issues related to management of Marcellus Shale
wastewater, including reviewing NPDES permits for CWT facilities and
POTWs; collecting information to help better characterize discharges of
treated gas extraction wastewater; and providing information and
training to POTW operators regarding acceptance of gas extraction
wastewater at the upcoming 20th Annual Industrial Pretreatment
Conference sponsored by Eastern Pennsylvania Water Pollution Control
Operators Association, PADEP and EPA.
I stand ready to provide EPA's support and to utilize our federal
authorities to require drinking water and wastewater monitoring if that
becomes necessary. In addition, EPA is prepared to exercise its
enforcement authorities as appropriate where our investigations reveal
violations of federal law.
Separately, we will be coordinating with you on air pollution and waste
impacts, and EPA's ongoing efforts to minimize those impacts.
These matters are indeed challenging. We look forward to working
closely with you on the range of environmental issues raised by energy
extraction activities to ensure that as these energy resources are
developed they are done safely and with public health protection as a
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or have
your staff contact Dr. Jennie Saxe, EPA's Pennsylvania Liaison, at
Shawn M. Garvin