Request for Public Hearing on Frack Waste Facility at the Allegheny River Headwaters

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Frack Waste Processing and Discharge Planned for the Headwaters of the Allegheny River

In April of 2016 a representative of JKLM Energy approached Coudersport Borough manager with a proposal for a “water remediation strategy” involving the Coudersport Area Municipal Authority (CAMA) sewage treatment plant.

JKLM’s idea was to situate a frack waste processing facility near CAMA's sewage plant so the facility can pre-treat the waste from JKLM's unconventional wells and then discharge it to CAMA's sewage plant for further treatment and discharge into the Allegheny River under CAMA’s existing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

A month later, on May 23, 2016, CAMA & Thomas Joseph, the owner of Epiphany Water Solutions, a company contacted by JKLM, annealed the arrangement by signing a Letter of Intent (LOI), which outlines their responsibilities. CAMA agreed to provide land/building for Epiphany’s equipment, natural gas, electrical and plumbing (per Epiphany specs) etc. Epiphany agreed to pump the pre-treated frack waste to CAMA’s sewage plant for further treatment & disposal for a per barrel (.50- $1.00) fee. Since then CAMA & Epiphany have collaborated, while only a handful of area residents were aware of the plans to transport frack waste to the sewage plant for storage, processing and discharge into the headwaters of the Allegheny River were ongoing.

(Approximately 6 months earlier JKLM injected products used in the drilling process into an uncased wellbore. You can read Public Herald’s in-depth reporting on the contamination of the Coudersport area water supplies here.)

The Beans Were Spilled

In June of 2017, Coudersport Borough councilman Bryan Welsh learned of the plans and then passed what he learned onto his acquaintances, explaining CAMA may be planning to vote on whether or not to lease property to Epiphany; during their June 28, 2017 meeting.

Meeting minutes, link here.

About a dozen obviously displeased residents attended the June meeting, asked questions and expressed their concerns. Residents were blindsided when they learned the plans for the regional frack waste facility were in the works since the spring of 2016. They asked the board to slow things down. They requested CAMA notify the public of their intentions, share the lease agreement publicly and allow a reasonable amount of time for public review and comments before voting.

And more importantly they asked the board to uphold Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the environmental rights amendment which provides:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

A week earlier the PA Supreme Court affirmed Article 1 Section 27 in a landmark ruling. State Impact covered it here.

Financial Risk Concerns

In addition to concerns over regional air and downstream water quality, residents also raised concerns over the identifiable financial risks that engaging in a scheme with Thomas Joseph, Epiphany’s owner may present. Google searches revealed several hundred complaints related to another one of Thomas Joseph’s business ventures. They recommended due diligence. The board postponed the vote. They agreed to hold a special meeting on July 12, 2017 to discuss “real estate negotiations.”

All is fair in love and CAMA business

During the July 12, 2017 meeting the board did not accept questions and limited public comments to two minutes. “Safety of the community, environmental issues, economic issues and what is best for the community have been taken into account.”  The CAMA board voted unanimously, agreeing to lease to Epiphany. The board successfully kept the details of their secret plan from being sabotaged by the underlings.

This was ethical barbarism. The public has fundamental rights; to have their interests considered and more importantly protected. CAMA’s refusal to address the concerns members of the community raised, before strengthening their unusual commitment to JKLM by signing the lease with Epiphany; calls into question the board’s ability to ethically handle the  public’s affairs.

According to CAMA's meeting minutes, they invested significantly to cover engineering costs associated with the project. And the lease agreement requires the authority to purchase the gravel and pay to have it spread and compacted and fund "all required engineering and permitting for the successful completion of the project."

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, north central regional office, the fledgling company’s central waste facility calls for technology that is “unproven” to treat frack waste, if authorized it would be “the first of its kind.” Investing in something with no guarantees for re-payment is called a game of chance, a lottery, a sweepstakes, not a sewage authority.

CAMA’s willingness to go out on a limb by investing heavily in Joseph’s project, in response to JKLM’s request seems extraordinary and it seems judicious to question this. Two days after the lease was signed, on July 14, 2017, Epiphany Allegheny LLC., applied for an Industrial Wastewater Facility permit and also an Air Quality permit “exemption.” 

Raise Sewage Rates?

On September 6, 2017 an “Erosion and Sediment Pollution Control Plan" prepared by Uni-tec Consulting Engineers Inc. for  CAMA (cha-ching), was filed with the Potter County Conservation District. The filing fee was $320.00 and CAMA covered the filng fee (cha-ching) also. Days earlier during CAMA's August meeting, the solicitor explained to those who attended the authority was having financial difficulties and the board needs to find new ways to raise funds or raise user’s sewage bills.

Air Quality Concerns

Back in June, after learning Epiphany may evaporate frack waste near Coudersport’s western border; area residents began releasing helium balloon from the road near CAMA’s sewage plant. Balloons drifted from the site, downwind; over Katy’s restaurant, Fox’s Pizza, Empereon Marketing which is one of Potter County’s largest employers and Coudersport Elementary School. 

Threat on the Allegheny Watershed

Processing and discharging waste into the headwaters of the Allegheny River needlessly threatens the water source hundreds of thousands of citizens residing in downstream communities, including Pittsburgh, PA rely upon because currently frack waste from the area's unconventional wells is hauled to zero discharge facilities in McKean County, PA where it is recycled and sent to well pads for reuse.

Citizens deserve to bring their comments and concerns surrounding this project to those who are willing and qualified to respond.

We the undersigned request,

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection hold a public hearing in Potter County, to explain the permitting process to the area residents and answer their questions surrounding air & water quality, health, safety, and environment followed by a formal (at least) 30 day publicized public comment period before permits associated with the project are authorized.

 



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