On November 7, 2009, new proposed wastewater management regulations governing total dissolved solids (TDS) discharges were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP or Department). The Department's proposed TDS strategy calls for adopting and implementing by January 1, 2011, a new treatment standard for high TDS sources. The proposed regulations establish new effluent standards for wastewater treatment and provide a numeric water quality criteria for TDS and chlorides. The Department's goal is to exclude all new sources of high TDS wastewater from Commonwealth waters by January 1, 2011.  

This regulatory package follows the DEP's TDS strategy announced in April 2009, which provided that the DEP would no longer issue permits for new sources of "high TDS industrial waste" unless the applicant proposes to install adequate treatment for TDS on or before January 2011. The April Strategy also provided that the DEP would propose a new end of pipe "technology based" standard to be inserted into the Chapter 95 (Wastewater Treatment Standards) for all "high TDS sources." The term "high TDS sources" is defined as new sources of pollutants that includes a TDS concentration that exceeds 2,000 mg/l or a TDS loading that exceeds 100,000 pounds per day. Effective January 1, 2011, DEP is proposing that such high TDS sources will be subject to the effluent limits of 500 mg/l of TDS, 250 mg/l of total chlorides and 250 mg/l total sulfites (in each case stated as a monthly average).

Although the proposed regulations appear to be focused on such high TDS sources as flow back water and produced brines associated with Marcellus Shale and other oil/gas well developments and acid mine drainage (AMD) sources, the proposed regulation may have  sweeping impacts to many other industries. These proposed effluent limits would directly and significantly affect a number of other sectors including: electric power generation, petroleum refining, chemical manufacturing, iron and steel manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, meat packaging, and fruit processing. In addition, the proposed rulemaking will impact a number of industrial and commercial enterprises using large, publicly-owned treatment works (POTWs) that already have relatively high TDS loadings.  

There are limited technologies available to address high TDS wastewater in Pennsylvania. As an initial matter, it is probable that existing technologies, such as reverse osmosis, evaporation and crystallization, may be able to handle some wastewater streams from certain industry sectors. However, for large volumes of wastewater with high TDS levels associated with, for example, coal mining, oil and gas development and production, the electric power industry, and the chemical industry, the availability and application of these treatment technologies is highly questionable. In addition, these treatment options are highly energy intensive and may be fraught with operational implementation concerns based on the volume of water treated. Notwithstanding these technological and economic issues, many industry representatives view the timetable to be unrealistic for these design, procurement, installation and permitting of such systems within the time period allotted. The proposed regulations call for a 90 day comment period ending February 5, 2010. The Department will also hold four public hearings across the Commonwealth.