Monongahela River

Since the increase of Marcellus Shale gas drilling in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, one river has felt most of the effects — the Monongahela River — which is known to residents simply as “The Mon.” As steelmaking and other heavy industries left the banks of the Monongahela River toward the end of the 20th Century, water quality improved enough that Pittsburgh hosted the 2005 BassMaster competition. Things were looking up for The Mon.

UPDATESMore water protection from Marcellus shale suggested for PennsylvaniaApril 16, 2012 – (AP) A former top environmental official says Pennsylvania’s successful efforts to keep Marcellus Shale wastewater away from drinking water supplies should be extended to other oil and gas drillers. “It’s the same industry. It is the same contaminants. And the goal should be the same,” said George Jugovic Jr., former southwest regional director of the Department of Environmental Protection and president of PennFuture, an environmental group.An Associated Press analysis of state data found that in the second half of 2011, about 1.86 million barrels — or about 78 million gallons — of drilling wastewater from conventional oil and gas wells were still being sent to treatment plants that discharge into rivers.Story“The AP found that 78 million gallons of oil and gas wastewater were still being taken to Pa. treatment plants in the last half of 2011 — about 33 percent less than the Marcellus quantity that was raising concerns in 2010, but still a substantial amount. If that rate continues, the conventional wells will send about 150 million gallons of the wastewater to treatment plants that discharge into rivers this year.”Bromide levels in Mon River rose in 2010, remain highBy Don Hopey
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
November 4, 2011
November 4, 2011 – Bromide levels rose in the Monongahela River in 2010 and remain elevated, possibly because of discharges of wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling or electric power plants. Ms. VanBriesen, who is also director of CMU’s Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems, said the river’s bromide levels are much higher than what would be expected in similar inland waterways and should be reduced to ensure that public drinking water supplies remain safe.Bromides are nontoxic salt compounds, but they react with disinfectants used by municipal water treatment plants to form brominated trihalomethanes, also known at THMs, which are volatile organic liquid compounds that become part of the drinking water. Studies show a link between ingestion of THMs and several types of cancer and birth defects.Story Private firms poised to treat wastewaterBy Joe Napsha
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
May 19, 2011
Companies whose specialty is treating wastewater are hoping for a surge of business after today’s deadline for natural gas drillers to voluntarily stop sending their toxic flowback from hydraulic fracturing to publicly owned treatment plants.”The diluters and the dumpers (of drilling wastewater) are done,” David Grottenthaler said, referring to an earlier practice of relying on streams and rivers to dilute metals and salts in drilling wastewater that flows back to the surface after fracturing Marcellus shale that holds natural gas deep underground. Complete story Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas ProcessIan Urbina
March 1, 2011
The New York Times
In a move hailed by industry as a major turning point, drilling companies started reusing and recycling the wastewater. “Water recycling is a win-win,” one drilling company, Range Resources, says on its Web site. “It reduces freshwater demand and eliminates the need to dispose of the water.”State and company records show that in the year and a half that ended in December 2010, well operators reported recycling at least 320 million gallons. But at least 260 million gallons of wastewater (38%) were sent to plants that discharge their treated waste into rivers, out of a total of more than 680 million gallons of wastewater produced, according to state data posted Tuesday. Complete story Mon River’s unsafe levels of Bromide prompt probePITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
By Tim Puko
September 17, 2010
State environmental investigators are trying to determine the source of a chemical that Carnegie Mellon University researchers say is responsible for carcinogens in drinking water from the Monongahela River.
In July and August, Jeanne VanBriesen’s research team found bromide combined at higher levels than usual with sanitizing chemicals in drinking water from the Mon, creating carcinogenic byproducts. If the trend continues, levels of carcinogens could remain elevated for months, violating federal safe drinking water standards, she said.
Bromide is found naturally in seawater and underground rock formations. If bromide is in the river water when the water is chlorinated, it can combine with chlorine to create a disinfectant byproduct, VanBriesen said. Those byproducts can cause cancer, but they are common in drinking water in trace amounts. Federal regulations require they be kept at minimal levels. Complete storyWebmaster’s note: Marcellus Shale is from an ancient ocean full of seawater. This article states: “Bromide is found naturally in seawater and underground rock formations.” Bingo!
Then fracking changed the Monongahela RiverShale gas drilling, with its high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing process, began early in the 21st Century and began to “tip the balance” of existing river water conditions. This was not only an important development for fish and aquatic life, but also the millions of Pittsburgh area residents who get their tap water from water treatment plants located along the Mon.
These conditions first became obvious in late-2008 when water showed over the limit TDS (total dissolved solid) levels. Residents noticed the bad taste and smell of their drinking water, as well as spotted dishes coming out of their dishwashers. Plumbers began noticing black deposits in plumbing fixtures.
  THE MIGHTY MONThe Monongahela River flows 128 miles from Fairmont West Virginia to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and is one of very few US rivers that flows north. The Native American word ‘Mechmenawungihilla’ or ‘Monongahela’ means “falling banks” and refers to its unstable river banks.  
When high-TDS water is chlorinated it creates trihalomethanes (THM or THMM) which water customers are told is safe to drink. However, one water expert warned of health dangers when these same chemicals in the water “gas off” and get inhaled while someone is taking a hot shower or bath.
This high-TDS situation is created by a couple factors:
1) low river flow in the Mon River and
2) the dumping and run-off of drilling brine into the Mon
Low river flow occurs primarily during drought periods. Fall 2008 was very dry with a Pennsylvania drought warning eventually being issued on November 7th. This low water condition was aggravated by drillers taking free water out of local streams and watersheds to provide the millions of gallons of water required to frack (correct spelling is ‘frac’ which is short for ‘frack’ or fracture) each Marcellus Shale gas well. There are environmental regulations concerning the ‘dewatering’ of streams, but official enforcement is ‘lax to non-existent’ in most southwestern Pennsylvania waterways. Volunteers have recently shouldered the load, with their tests revealing multiple streams with high levels of bromides, as of late-2011.
The dumping of drilling brine into Pittsburgh tap water sources became a serious issue when ill-equipped waste treatment plants were accepting all the drilling wastewater they could get. The extra business improved their bottom lines, however, most (all?) were not equipped to handle industrial grade wastewater and much of the processing was incomplete. Even well-equipped treatment plants have difficulty removing salts from water, so they count on dilution as the key to solving a high-TDS problem. The more drilling brine is watered-down, as the story goes, the closer the water will come to having acceptable ‘quality’ levels.
“In just the Monongahela River’s watershed, between 612,000 and 2 million gallons per day of waste fracking fluid is discharged by 13 public and commercial water treatment facilities after limited treatment.  At the lower treatment amount, Dr. Volz said, the water daily discharges contain 824,825 pounds of total dissolved solids, 15,000 pounds of barium, 16,737 pounds of strontium and 486,812 pounds of chloride.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 28, 2010
Pennsylvania finally caught up with the dumping end of this equation, with the DEP limiting how much wastewater facilities could accept, and which ones could accept it. This created some temporary improvements in early 2009, but dry weather conditions in late Spring and early summer began triggering ‘over the limit’ announcements by various water treatment authorities once again. Some facilities hired consultants to work on their problem, and ended up switching their public water purification systems away from chlorine to chloramine, to eliminate some of their over-limit  trihalomethane problem.In early 2011, new attention was placed on the radioactive contaminants present in gas drilling wastewater from a soluble form of radium known as Ra-226. New concerns were raised about the potential health effects to those drinking tapwater drawn from the Monongahela River.
So let’s take a look at some photos of the Monongahela River as it flows north from West Virginia toward Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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