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Ohio Utica Shale

Bromine levels remain troublesome on Allegheny River

By Bob Downing Published: November 13, 2012

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Written by Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on . Posted in Archives

Salty bromide concentrations in the Monongahela River, which had risen in 2009 and 2010 due, at least in part, to discharges of Marcellus Shale gas drilling wastewater by sewage treatment plants, returned to normal levels in 2011 and this year, according to a Carnegie Mellon University river monitoring study.

The findings are good news for municipal water suppliers concerned that the higher levels of bromide, a nontoxic salt compound, were reacting with chlorine in the water disinfection process to produce higher than healthy concentrations of a carcinogen, trihalomethane, in the finished water supplied to their customers.

Eleven public water utilities use the Monongahela River to supply water to about 1 million people.

Jeanne VanBriesen, director of the Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems (Water QUEST) and a professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, said the decline in Mon River bromide levels coincided with a request to drilling companies by the state Department of Environmental Protection to stop using the sewage treatment plants, which are not equipped to treat the drilling wastes.

"Bromide concentrations have declined, and there are reduced loads entering the river. We don't know why, but the decline corresponds to the DEP's request that treatment plants stop accepting drilling wastewater," said Ms. VanBriesen, who discussed the study results at the third annual CMU "State of the Monongahela River Research Forum," last week.

The CMU study sampled river water for chloride and bromide, elements that are components of total dissolved solids, or TDS, at eight locations near public drinking water intakes. She said the study found bromide discharges continue to be an issue from coal-fired power plants and mines.

Bromide concentrations remain high near several commercial brine and wastewater treatment plants on the Allegheny River, where the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority draws water for its 400,000 customers. According to the authority's 2011 water quality report, trihalomethane levels were measured at 18 to 106 parts per billion, but the systemwide annual average was 66 parts per billion, below the federally allowed maximum of 80 parts per billion.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission designated bromide as a "compound of concern" for water treatment plants last year.

Other research found that the higher TDS levels may have reduced the number of smaller minnow-sized fish in the river. According to a fish survey by California University of Pennsylvania researchers David Argent and William Kimmel, populations of larger fish in the river have been stable since 2005, but three species of darters -- rainbow darter, channel darter and johnny darter -- have all declined significantly in number.

"The small-bodied benthic fishes have declined markedly," Mr. Argent said. "The reason for the changes is unknown, but during that time there has been elevated total dissolved solids, and that seems to be having some effect."

High TDS levels in the river in 2008, 2009, and 2010 caused concerns from industries that couldn't use the contaminated water in their industrial processes and from water utility customers who complained about bad tasting and smelling water that damaged their automatic dishwashers and left spots on their glassware.

Don Hopey: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 412-263-1983.



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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.