The state Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to allow public comment on authorizations for 49 existing fracking waste facilities across Pennsylvania, 22 of them in the southwestern region.
The Environmental Integrity Project, joined by five other environmental groups, sent a letter to the DEP in early February about the reauthorizations for tanks pads, processing and storage facilities and industrial treatment plants. The existing facilities were reauthorized for 10 years under a general waste management permit known as WMGR123. The DEP updated its wastewater storage and reuse permit at the start of 2021, which requires public notice and comment, but DEP failed to do so for permits issued during a two-week period in late December and early January.
The agency’s failure to allow comment deprived the groups and nearby residents “with an interest in these activities and their impacts on health, environment, and public safety and welfare, of the opportunity to obtain and review the applications and voice the concerns to the DEP prior to authorization. This deprivation will extend for a decade, which is the next time the general permit, or these authorizations thereunder, will be renewed,” the letter states. Those comments would include site-specific recommendations and ask for increased reporting requirements for the facilities.”
The DEP subsequently entered into a signed stipulation with the EIP that it will accept public comments for 60 days from the date of public notice, which is expected no later than March 31, consider all public comments, and make modifications to the previously approved authorizations where appropriate. The Department will also investigate complaints it receives from concerned residents, and will communicate the results to them.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of natural gas wells requires a large amount of water mixed with chemicals to be injected at high pressure into the wells to crack the shale formation and release gas. Some of that liquid, which can contain the injected chemicals plus naturally occurring materials such as brines, metals, and radioactive particles, then returns to the surface as “flowback” or “produced water.” Most wastewater is then stored at facilities and reused at other well sites.
The other environmental groups involved in the agreement are the Center for Coalfield Justice, Mountain Watershed Association, Clean Air Council, Earthworks and PennFuture.