DEP and EPA Settle Frackwater Radium Issue with Firm
Pittsburgh Business Times
23 May 2013
Anya Litvak, Reporter
Within the span of a few days in early May, Paul Hart signed a lot
of documents that would change the way his oil and gas wastewater
treatment plants would function in the future.
Besides merging them into a new company, Fluid Recovery Services,
and selling that company to Aquatech International, Hart also
signed two separate agreements with state and federal regulators
that will result in a more than $20 million overhaul of his
facilities, and likely an $83,000 penalty from the Environmental
This started with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental
Protection investigating Hart Resource Technologies and
Pennsylvania Brine Treatment for alleged unauthorized discharges
of shale wastewater laced with radioactive elements into streams.
In July 2011, the DEP collected sediment samples at PA Brine’s
Josephine plant in Indiana County, where discharges were going
into Blacklick Creek. The agency found levels of radium 226 in the
discharge pipe that were 44 times the drinking water standard, and
20 meters downstream of the discharge at 66 percent above that
The DEP also ordered Hart and PA Brine to hire an outside firm to
test for radium all around the facility. That, too, turned up
The next year, the two companies voluntarily tested their other
facilities — the Franklin plant in Venango County and the
Creekside facility in Indiana County — and also found higher than
normal concentrations of radium in the steam bed and stream banks
of the Allegheny River and downstream of discharge points.
The conclusion was that the radium was deposited before the spring
of 2011, when Hart’s facilities were still accepting Marcellus
wastewater. In April 2011, they stopped at DEP's request.
That request, made to the industry as a whole, was the impetus
behind Paul Hart’s decision to upgrade his plants, and what
ultimately led to their sale to Aquatech, he told me last week.
At that time, before the consent agreements with the DEP and EPA
were made public, Hart stressed how important it was for him not
to have an adversarial relationship with the DEP and to have his
technology blessed by the agency.
The DEP and EPA investigations began a few months after the
University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Health Environments and
Communities sounded the alarm about the Josephine plant.
Under the direction of Conrad “Dan” Volz, who left Pitt in 2011
because he said it was restricting his anti-fracking activism, the
center sampled discharges from that facility into Blacklick Creek
in December 2010.
Volz even highlighted the elevated pollutant levels he found there
in Congressional testimony in April 2011, though he had not yet
tested for radioactivity levels.
DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said the agency's investigation started
as part of an effort to develop a methodology for analyzing
sediments for radiation from shale frack water.
In January 2013, the DEP announced a “comprehensive oil and gas
development radiation study” and in that announcement stated that
its sampling of rivers and streams around wastewater plants showed
no cause for alarm.
“Most results showed no detectable levels of radioactivity, and
the levels that were detectable did not exceed safe drinking water
standards,” the agency’s statement said.
That was in-stream monitoring, Sunday said. The sediment samples
taken in 2011 from Blacklick Creek where the Josephine plant was
discharging water, are a different story.
Still, both the DEP and company officials stressed there was no
danger to the health of plant workers or people walking by the
stream at Josephine.
Now, the facilities, owned by Aquatech, are undergoing a makeover.
“The sense is that the current FRS management is essentially the
white knight,” Devesh Mittal, vice president and general manager
of Aquatech Energy Services, told me Thursday.
“Essentially the approach is that whatever happened in the past
should not happen. It is not conducive to the environment and to
growth and being able to deliver these services to the industry,”
FRS already has two other plants that will be handling Marcellus
wastewater before the original three are outfitted with necessary
technology. A new plant in Tioga County opened a few weeks ago and
another one is being built in Rouseville.
Mittal said the company has started the permitting process to
upgrade the Josephine plant, but doesn’t have a timeline for
Creekside and Franklin.
Anya Litvak covers energy, transportation, gaming, engineering and
construction. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or