The Seneca Nation is calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to reject permit applications for a water quality management and discharge plan at the headwaters of the Allegheny River in Potter County.
But an official at Epiphany Allegheny LLC says the Seneca Nation has been provided inaccurate information, saying that the planned water treatment facility in Eulalia Township would have no impact on the waterway.
“Epiphany has tremendous respect for the great Seneca Nation and we are aligned with them in their mission to preserve and protect our precious environment,” Tom Joseph of Epiphany Solar Water Systems said on Friday night.
In a letter to Pennsylvania DEP officials, Seneca President Todd Gates called for the denial of the plan proposed by Epiphany and the Coudersport Area Municipal Authority that would allow for the transport, treatment and release of thousands of gallons of what he called dangerous wastewater from hydraulic fracturing into the Allegheny.
The Seneca’s Allegany Territory is located 65 miles downstream from the project. The Allegheny flows from its headwaters in Potter County, through McKean County and then up into New York state near Portville. The river flows through Olean, N.Y., and Allegany on its way west to the Seneca territory and Salamanca, N.Y., then turns south again.
“Allowing this plan to move forward would permit poisonous contaminants to travel downstream into New York state and onto the sovereign ancestral lands of the Seneca Nation, which sit upon the Ohi:yo (Allegheny River),” Gates’ letter states. “The Seneca people have a deep spiritual connection with the land and we depend on our natural resources, including native plants, trees, wildlife, fish and water. These resources are critical components of our culture. We will zealously defend and protect what remains of our territories and our natural resources, which would be further threatened by this dangerous plan.”
Joseph said he vehemently disagrees with that statement.
“Our facility will not release any dangerous or contaminated wastewater into the Allegheny River under any circumstances,” he said. “Not only would a release of contaminated wastewater be illegal and irresponsible, but it would also be a direct violation of our company’s mission and purpose as a protector of the environment.”
Mike Broeker, president/chief operating officer of Epiphany Water Solutions of Pittsburgh, said the Epiphany system results in water that is clean enough to drink.
“The wastewater from your home is more hazardous than Epiphany water,” he said. “The Epiphany System has automated fail-safe mechanisms to prevent any accidents or errors Epiphany has proven technology with thousands of hours of rigorous field testing.”
The plan by Epiphany calls for wastewater created by fracking for natural gas — the practice is not legal in New York state nor authorized on Seneca Nation lands, but is used widely in Pennsylvania — to be transported to the CAMA wastewater plant in Eulalia Township, where Seneca Nation says the water would be treated and released into the Allegheny system. The proposed treatment facility would discharge up to 42,000 gallons of treated fracking water, with what the Senecas say is insufficient removal of radioactivity, into the river each day, although the plant can process between 20,000-80,000 gallons daily.
Opponents of fracking, citing scientific studies, say water used for fracking in Pennsylvania contains high levels of radioactive material. Earlier this week, a Duke University report indicated that researchers had found high levels of radium in fracking wastewater that was discharged into tributaries and the Allegheny River in Indiana County.
In his letter, the Seneca president contends that during extreme high water events, which are a regular occurrence in the region, contaminated sediment from the facility will be transported and deposited downstream, ultimately accumulating in the Allegheny Reservoir, which is located in part in Seneca Nation territory.
Further, Gates argues, the proposed treatment facility would be located in a 100-year floodplain. In the event of a flood or spill, thousands of gallons of untreated hazardous and radioactive material stored on-site could be released directly into the Allegheny.
“Allowing pollutants to be released into the river and transported downstream would create imminent health risks for thousands of residents of Pennsylvania, New York and the Seneca Nation,” he said.
But Joseph said that the facility would be specifically designed to withstand a 100-year flood without any release of wastewater, solid waste or even clean water.
“Epiphany’s facility will cause zero negative effects on the Allegheny River, zero effects on groundwater, and a substantial reduction of overall air emissions,” he said. “Our company plans to invest over $1 million in a new facility that will create jobs, benefit the citizens of Potter County, and will help create a cleaner environment for all of us.”
Gates said the Seneca Nation was not consulted on the proposed changes that would allow the treatment of the hazardous wastewater from fracking.
The Nation is calling on New York state, communities between Eulalia Township and the Nation’s Allegany Territory and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Army Corps of Engineers to halt the proposed activity.
“There is no proven technology that allows for the complete treatment of wastewater from fracking, particularly in the Marcellus shale region,” he said. “Allowing this project to move forward would be a reckless assault on Mother Earth, the resources of the Ohi:yo, the health of thousands downstream, and future generations.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth, Joseph said.
“Distillation technology is the only absolutely and irrefutably proven means of effectively and completely treating oil and gas wastewater,” he said.
Written comments on the planned facility can be sent to Thomas Randis, environmental program manager, at 208 W. Third St., Suite 101, Williamsport, Pa., 17701; or via email at RA-EPNCEPIPHANY@pa.gov. Those with questions about the permitting process can contact Randis at 570-327-0530.