COUDERSPORT, Pa. — Add another opponent to the list of those who don’t want a hydraulic fracturing wastewater treatment facility on the headwaters of the Allegheny River: the Coudersport Borough Council.
Council members voted 5-1 Wednesday to ask the Coudersport Area Municipal Authority to pull out of an agreement for the $1 million installation in the face of public opposition. Vice President Wayne Hathaway cast the lone vote against the council’s measure asking that the project be dropped.
Epiphany Water Solutions, a Pittsburgh-based firm that has proposed a wastewater treatment facility near the borough sewer plant on Eulalia Township land to handle wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing process for natural gas wells, signed a lease with the CAMA in 2017 for land adjacent to the existing wastewater treatment plant.
The CAMA board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday for its monthly meeting. The Seneca Nation of Indians, which on Thursday expressed gratitude over the borough council’s stance, will sponsor a bus from Salamanca to the meeting site. More than 100 attendees, many from the Nation, attended the CAMA’s February meeting to oppose the plan.
“We were very happy to learn of this latest action, by yet another government defending the river from what we believe is a dangerous plan,” Seneca Nation President Todd Gates said Thursday. “The risk of contamination along the river, and the potential environmental and health risks it could impose, simply should not be tolerated.”
Beginning in 2016, the state Department of Environmental Protection has mulled approving a 1,000 barrel per day facility proposed by Epiphany. The site would serve as a primary fracking wastewater disposal site for the gas drilling industry in Potter County, including JKLM Energy LLC, which has extensive drilling operations in Potter County and has supported the project.
JKLM, based in Sewickley, is owned by Terry Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres. In 2016, the company agreed to pay a more than $470,000 civil penalty for groundwater contamination resulting from drilling of a natural gas well; six private drinking water wells were contaminated in Sweden and Eulalia townships in September 2015.
To date, the DEP has received thousands of comments on the proposal, many originating downstream.
In addition to the Seneca Nation and the Coudersport council, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Cattaraugus County (N.Y.) Legislature, the Salamanca (N.Y.) City Council, New York state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and other government organizations, as well as individual residents, have specifically opposed or raised concerns about the project.
Pennsylvania overall has seen more than 10,000 wells drilled using the process, often called fracking, with most drilled to access natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.
New York state has banned high-volume fracking since the outset of the Marcellus Shale drilling boom. Opponents to fracking cite the presence of naturally occurring radioactive materials in the wastewater as a risk to the groundwater, as well as chemicals put in to the water by drilling firms to aid the process — the exact composition often being considered trade secrets.
Epiphany officials believe that through several processes, including distillation, they can remove the contaminants from the water and make it safe enough to be sent to the CAMA treatment plant for discharge into the river, as well as producing 5,200 pounds of solid waste a day. Opponents argue the process has not been tested on a large scale and may not be reliable, and noted the proposed location is within the 100-year flood plain of the Allegheny. Opponents are also critical of testing procedures, which they say do not include testing for radioactivity.
The Allegheny River begins in Potter County, running into McKean County before flowing north through Cattaraugus County and turning south again into Pennsylvania. The river joins the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River, which is the largest tributary of the Mississippi River.