By Burton Speakman
The fight between Patriot Water System and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency continues despite a ruling by the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission earlier this week.
Patriot and the city of Warren believe the ruling gives them the right to restart operations, while the Ohio EPA says the city’s water treatment plant still cannot receive any brine from the company.
The appeals commission determined the Ohio EPA director “acted unlawfully and unreasonably” in including a provision to Patriot’s 2012 permit that stopped the release of low-salinity brine to the treatment plant, according to the ruling.
The ruling does not mention the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ role as the government agency responsible for approving the method for all brine disposal.
The ERAC declined to provide any clarification to its ruling Thursday. A spokesman said the commissioners do not comment on rulings because the ERAC is a court body.
The appeals commission’s decision Tuesday upheld Ohio’s issuance of Patriot’s 2010 permit and Warren’s 2012 permit, with one exception. That exception was a clause identified as Part II, Section BB, which was nothing more than a restatement of another law that applies to the disposal of brine from oil and gas drilling, according to Scott Nally, Ohio EPA director.
Striking this provision does not substantively change the permits as issued to Patriot or the city. It also does not change the fact that their permits do not authorize the disposal of treated or untreated brine in any way that is not approved by the ODNR’s chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, Nally said.
“Patriot has always been able to and can continue to pretreat industrial and brine wastewater. They just cannot send the brine to the city of Warren’s wastewater treatment plant for disposal,” Nally said.
Carlo LoParo, an ODNR spokesman, declined to comment on the ruling deferring to the Ohio EPA.
“As far as we’re concerned we’re up and running, and we’re going to continue running,” said Andrew Blocksom, Patriot president.
Less than 24 hours after receiving notice the company had prevailed in its fight to reopen, Patriot employees returned and started work.
“Everyone was on pins and needles waiting to get back to work,” Blocksom said. “We’re one big family.”
There were two employees who had found other employment, and Patriot will try to replace those workers soon, Blocksom said. At this time, workers have filled 23 of the 30 available positions.
Patriot had never done anything wrong, nor had it violated the terms of the original permit that had allowed the company to operate, Blocksom said.
“The water that Patriot treats needs very little done to it to be returned safely to the environment,” he said.
The company had been prevented from operating since March after an order from the Ohio EPA that the agency would no longer allow the Warren plant to receive any type of brine.
Tom Angelo, director of Warren’s water-pollution control division and overseer of the treatment plant, said the EPA’s interpretation was not consistent with the ERAC ruling.
“The EPA has been wrong all along, and they’re thumbing their nose at the ERAC,” Angelo said, adding the agency is “simple trying to ignore the ERAC ruling.”
Warren respects the attempts of the EPA to keep the environment safe, said Mayor Doug Franklin, but the ERAC made a ruling based on facts and science, he said.
“There have been studies that have shown we can treat this water safely and we would like to continue to do that,” Franklin said.
Allowing the treatment is a good situation for everyone. It allows the employees to go back to work and permits the water that has to be disposed of in some manner to be treated in a safe fashion, he said.
“The employees of Patriot have been held hostage since this whole thing began,” Franklin said.
At some point, the Ohio EPA is going to have to come up with some science to back their position to not allow the city to take water from Patriot, said state Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th.
“There is no science that backs the EPA’s decision,” he said.
ODNR has the right to regulate the disposal of brine. Patriot can still treat brine. The company, however, would have to get approval for new technology from ODNR to release it into the Warren treatment facility, said Mike Settles, an Ohio EPA spokesman.
Patriot’s facility treats lower-salt-content water generated from fracking, the process used to extract oil and gas from underground.
The EPA issued a ruling in March that prevented Warren from accepting any brine wastewater. The water treated by Patriot was discharged to Warren’s treatment facility. The ruling essentially halted any operations at Patriot.