If not for the effort of Clean Water Action and Earthjustice, a wastewater treatment plant in southwestern Pennsylvania might have spent each day of the past three years dumping up to 500,000 gallons of untreated natural gas drilling wastewater into the Monongahela River.
Instead, the plant has not discharged a drop of waste into the river—a drinking water source for 350,000 people. And under a new permit issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the plant will not be allowed to discharge anything, unless it proves it can comply with the law and treat all of the contaminants in fracking wastewater.
The DEP had initially tried to fast-track the planned wastewater plant in Masontown, PA, quietly allowing Shallenberger Construction Inc. to dump inadequately treated fracking wastewater directly into the Monongahela River until the company built all of the necessary treatment facilities at the plant.
“When fracking began in western Pennsylvania, the gas industry treated our rivers as a convenient place to dispose of their waste,” stated Myron Arnowitt, PA state director for Clean Water Action. “We knew we had to act and we are glad to see that this agreement upholds the protection for our drinking water that every Pennsylvanian expects and deserves.”
In 2008, pollution levels spiked so high in a 70-mile stretch of the Monongahela River that the entire city of Pittsburgh was urged to drink bottled water. The DEP acknowledged that the problem was due in large part to untreated fracking wastewater being discharged from sewage treatment plants. The Shallenberger plant would have added to the contamination.
But Clean Water Action discovered the backroom deal and challenged the illegal arrangement, which violated state and federal laws protecting drinking water. With the help of the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, DEP was forced to terminate its backroom deal with the plant owners and adopt a new pollution permit that complied with the law.
The groups expect today’s settlement will help in the fights to protect other water bodies in the state from natural gas drilling wastewater.
“Until we went to court, the state was refusing to enforce basic standards for industrial wastewater treatment plants accepting fracking wastes,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg. “This lawsuit helped to change the dynamic in Pennsylvania—away from dumping waste into clean streams and toward policies that encourage recycling.
"Still, we have a long way to go before the industry is held fully accountable for its pollution,” concluded Goldberg.
DEP first issued an unlawfully lenient discharge permit to Shallenberger in September 2008. After pollution in the Monongahela River exceeded water quality standards, the state entered into negotiations with Shallenberger to amend the permit. DEP gave the company more than three years from the end of August 2009 to meet new limits, however, and even those were inadequate.
The negotiations were conducted behind closed doors, and the deal was never subject to public notice or review. Earthjustice challenged the permit on behalf of Clean Water Action, resulting in an amended draft permit in 2011. The amended draft permit in 2011 was also subject to toothless deadlines and other deficiencies. A coalition of groups across the state objected and the state eventually amended the permit to comply with the law, resulting in today’s settlement.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING WASTEWATER page for more related news on this topic.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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