By Karl Henkel
Andrew Blocksom used a local analogy to describe restrictions in the city of Warren’s new permit announced Monday by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s like telling [General Motors] Lordstown they can start building playground equipment,” said the president of Patriot Water Treatment LLC, the state’s lone brine-wastewater treatment plant.
The new permit signed by OEPA Director Scott Nally takes effect April 1 and will halt Warren’s ability to accept treated fracking wastewater from Patriot or any other entity.
Patriot can still accept fracking wastewater from Utica and Marcellus shale exploration but has to find a different method of disposal or reuse, such as recycling or injection-well disposal, said Mike Settles, OEPA spokesman.
Separately, OEPA granted Patriot a permit to accept and treat new wastewater sources from other industries, but Blocksom considered it “a smokescreen” because 98 percent of Patriot’s business is treating fracking wastewater.
Patriot can treat up to 100,000 gallons of fluid per day.
Warren’s new permit, which will replace one that expired at the end of January, comes in the middle of a legal battle involving OEPA, Patriot, Warren and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The state has said it unlawfully issued permits regarding Patriot’s operations, but the Environmental Review Appeals Commission recently confirmed the legality of the permits.
Legal proceedings, including a hearing in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, scheduled for Wednesday, are still pending.
But Settles said the entity felt it was time to issue a new permit.
“The appeals of [Patriot’s] original permit are still pending,” he told The Vindicator on Monday. “That could take some time.
“This is an opportunity to take action that provides a road map moving forward.”
Nally, who is out of town until Thursday but was subpoenaed for Wednesday’s court hearing, did not comment.
“It’s about time he answers some questions,” Blocksom said. “The state needs to have a change of EPA director.”
The office of Gov. John Kasich also did not respond to a request to comment.
Ohio last year made $1.5 million from a brine-tax fee for fluid disposed at injection wells, a process that, in the rare case of the D&L Energy Inc. well in Youngstown, has been linked to earthquakes. Patriot’s treatment system refines low-salt water so that it can be treated in municipal plants, bypassing the injection wells.
State Rep. Sean O’Brien of Brookfield, D-65th, who spoke to Nally over the weekend, said the legal system will eventually determine Patriot’s fate, but is still unsure of the situation’s conclusion.
He said Nally told him that treated fracking wastewater could cause cancer because chlorine, used to treat water at all municipal plants, mixed with high levels of bromides, or salts, can create trihalomethanes, a carcinogen that can cause bladder cancer.
Blocksom and Tom Angelo, city water pollution control director, acknowledged the chemistry of the argument, but again iterated that Patriot does not accept high-salt fracking wastewater.
It accepts flowback wastewater from fracking, which contains higher levels of solid material and much lower levels of salt, hence eliminating the carcinogen danger.
“Warren would never have that risk,” Angelo said.
Warren’s permit will, however, allow it to avoid compliance with strict limits to total dissolved solids; substances in liquids are measured by TDS.
OEPA had planned to limit Warren’s TDS level to 622 milligrams per liter, well below the state standard of 1,500. The permit calls for the monitoring of TDS twice a week.
O’Brien said other companies that disperse TDS, such as GM Lordstown, would have needed to make multi-million dollar investments to monitor TDS levels.
He called that aspect of OEPA’s permit a victory over an “economic blockade.”
Patriot, which opened last May, has 25 employees at its Sferra Drive plant.
Blocksom said his business will operate as usual and expects to stay in business pending final court decisions.