Suspected Frac Water Dump Under Investigation in Greene

Washington PA Observer Reporter
13 October 2014
by Tara Kinsell, Staff Writer

WAYNESBURG – An investigation was launched into the dumping of 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of suspected hydraulic fracturing water into Waynesburg Borough’s sewer system between 8 and 9 a.m. Sept. 30.

When personnel at the Waynesburg Sewage Treatment Plant in Meadowlark Park noticed a spike in the flow coming through the system, borough officials were contacted.

Assistant Waynesburg Borough Manager Bryan Cumberledge, who ran a report of the flow meters to determine where the surge may have originated, said Sam McCullough, manager of the sewage treatment plant, saw a milky substance entering the plant following the spike. Its quantity, color and familiar odor struck a chord with McCullough as the plant previously accepted gas well water for treatment for more than a year, Cumberledge said.

As a result of his analysis of the flow meters, Cumberledge was able to narrow the origin of the dumping to two of the seven zones that comprise the borough’s sewer system, but one of those two zones encompasses a majority of the borough’s north side and parts of the east and south sides, thus making it more difficult for him to find the specific point where it took place.

Cumberledge said since the spike in the system occurred during daylight hours, he has been inspecting manhole covers where someone might be able to go unnoticed.

John Poister, a spokesman with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said his agency was not aware of the incident but it would be sending someone from clean water enforcement to look into the situation. Poister said the plant was not obligated to alert the DEP if this did not create a problem with the plant’s equipment, impacted its operations, was too much to process, etc.

“We are going to send an inspector down,” he said. “We are concerned by the fact that someone was able to dump this amount into the system unnoticed.”

Cumberledge said there are not many spots in the system that are hidden from view. “Something like this would likely raise some type of suspicion,” he said. He also is considering that a building large enough for a truck to pull into might have a drain that was used to tap into the sewer system.

Poister said that is not out of the question.

“Two years ago, we prosecuted a lawn-service company that was dumping unused fertilizer down a drain in a garage that went into the storm system,” he said. In that case, roughly 1,000 gallons of fertilizer went from the storm drain into a tributary of Thompson Run in Monroeville. “Obviously, we don’t want it (industrial waste) going into the waterways.”

Waynesburg Borough police Chief Rob Toth told his officers to be aware of suspicious activity around manholes and other access points for the sewer system. “If it happens again, hopefully we will be there to catch the person responsible,” he said.

In 2009, the borough quit accepting gas well water when the DEP ordered all treatment plants to drastically reduce the amount of wastewater being accepted for treatment following contamination found in the Monongahela River.

New treatment requirements initiated at that time made it too costly for the Waynesburg plant to accept the water.

Beginning in 2011, the DEP requested municipal authorities and originators of wastewater from the drilling side not use sewage treatment plants. “No matter how good the Waynesburg plant, or any plant is, they are just not equipped to handle and treat frack water,” Poister said.

Poister also said if this turns out to be hydraulic fracturing water, the responsible party could face criminal charges.