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Despite rumors, Ridgway drinking supply adequate

March 4, 2011

Photo by Joseph Bell

Despite negative rumors and supposed misconceptions regarding wastewater discharge into the Clarion River, Paul McCurdy, who serves as environmental manager for the Ridgway borough council, said Friday that all is well for Ridgway's drinking water supply.
McCurdy reported that while the wastewater being discharged into the Clarion River has undetectable amounts of radioactive elements present, the amounts can do no harm. Furthermore, despite Marcellus Shale gas wells being situated in Highland Township and close to tributary streams feeding the Laurel Mill Reservoir, the drinking supply remains safe.
The wastewater facility located off state Route 948 treats an average of 1 million gallons of sewage per day; during the dryer spells of the summer months, production could dip as low as 400,000 to 500,000 gallons per day.
"Earlier in the week when it was raining, maybe upwards of 3 million gallons in a day," McCurdy said. Furthermore, the plant does take in truckloads of wastewater from out of town.
"While I don't have those figures in front of me and I'm working on finishing up an annual report that will have all that summarized, we take in for truck waste, septage-- just what you pump out of someone's septic tank, we take wastewater from other municipal wastewater plants, just sludge, and we treat an industrial waste for Chattanooga Labeling.
"We also take some water from GKN, and it's more just floor cleanings with whatever detergents detected."
According to McCurdy, the wastewater that people are most interested in right now is brine water.
"There's a lot of misunderstanding and misconceptions there," McCurdy said. "The brine water is not exclusively Marcellus Shale-- we take about two-thirds of the brine we treat that is from the old conventional wells, that's 2,000 feet down or something like that-- and about one-third of that is from Marcellus Shale wells.
"What people don't understand is that there are various wastewaters generated from the drilling process."
One is pit water, essentially runoff water from the site and the stormwater.
"We don't treat that because it has sticks and stones that we don't want," McCurdy said. "There's the drilling mud, that's the water they use to lubricate and take out the ground up rock from drilling-- we don't take that because of the rocks and suspended solids.
"We do treat brine water that is production water-- gas comes up out of the ground and brings with it a certain amount of water and moisture. That's brine and we treat that."
Further confusion that some people have had is that brine water is frac water- McCurdy indicates that this is incorrect.
"Brine water is just water from deep in the ground and they call it brine because it's salty-- pickles are in a salty brine solution, that's what they're preserved in," McCurdy said. "Brine water just means water with a lot of dissolved minerals and primarily salt.
"That is not all frac fluid. A lot of mistakes that a lot of folks make is that all of this stuff is frac fluid."
While the facility does treat water with Marcellus Shale drilling chemicals from time to time, it is not on a daily basis or even a weekly basis.
"You frac a well once maybe, and once that well is fracked, you have some of this water that comes back up and that would be legitimately correctly called 'frac water,' and that can be brought here and we treat it," McCurdy said. "If they have a campaign of fracking, they do it, a bunch of water comes back in a hurry and they have say a million gallons to deal with in a short period of time and they bring some of it here."

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