Key approval given to Pa. drilling wastewater rule

A key piece of the state's approach to controlling water pollution from Pennsylvania's fast-expanding natural gas drilling activity cleared a major hurdle Thursday.

The Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted 4-1 over the objections of the gas industry to approve the Rendell administration's proposal to prevent pollutants in briny drilling wastewater from further tainting public waterways and household drinking water. State environmental officials say too much of the pollutants can kill fish and leave an unpleasant salty taste in drinking water drawn from rivers.

"Drilling wastewater is incredibly nasty wastewater," state Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said after the vote at the panel's public meeting. "If we allow this into our rivers and streams, all the businesses in Pennsylvania will suffer ... all those who drink water in Pennsylvania are going to be angry and they would have every reason to be, and all of those who fish and love the outdoors are going to say, `What did you do to our fish and our outdoors?'"

The vote comes at the beginning of what is expected to be a gas drilling boom in Pennsylvania. Exploration companies, armed with new technology, are spending billions to get into position to exploit the rich Marcellus Shale gas reserve, which lies underneath much of the state.

The rule would put pressure on drillers to reuse the wastewater or find alternative methods to treat and dispose of the brine, rather than bringing more truckloads of it to sewage treatment plants that discharge into waterways where millions get drinking water.

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