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Gas company sending fracking wastewater to Ohio

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It was a one-time deal when the city's treatment plant received 35,000 gallons of wastewater last year that a Quebec natural gas company used in a hydraulic fracking operation in Otsego County.

Last January, Watertown accepted and treated 35,000 gallons of wastewater from Gastem Inc. after spending a year going through a permitting process with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The material came from a vertical gas-drilling well known as Ross No. 1 in the town of Maryland. The city was paid $1,135 for treating it.

The briny water is produced by the extraction of natural gas from shale deposits thousands of feet below the surface. Large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the rock formation, fracturing the rock, which then releases the natural gas. The water pumped back to the surface is laced with naturally occurring radioactive material, salt and other chemicals.

Well operators must store the fluid in an underground well, haul it out of state for treatment or obtain the state's approval to have it processed at an in-state sewage treatment facility.

Gastem has decided to take its wastewater to Warren, Ohio, which can accept as much as 100,000 gallons at its wastewater treatment plant.

Michael J. Sligar, chief operator of the city's pollution control plant, said earlier this week that the contract with Gastem ended after the plant treated those 35,000 gallons. Watertown couldn't take any more wastewater from the company without going through the DEC approval process once again, he said.

Mr. Sligar said he was surprised when he learned that Gastem now was working with Warren, Ohio. That municipality's treatment plant went through a similar approval process with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to accept the fluid, he said.

But Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns had reservations about the fluid being treated at the local plant and was glad to hear Wednesday that it was going elsewhere. She said it was too much of a risk of having it trucked through the fairgrounds to the treatment plant, and she opposed it last year when it came up for a council vote.

"I didn't see an upside in doing it," she said. "There were too many unknowns."

Contacted in Quebec, Gastem company President Orville Cole said that he'd do business again with Watertown, but chose Warren because it was going to take less time to go through the approval process than with the New York state DEC. He was worried about not finishing the project in time for wintry weather, Mr. Cole said.

"I have no qualms to do it again to accept and treat wastewater from there," Mr. Sligar said, adding that he knew exactly what Gastem was bringing to the city's plant and how much of the material. He said he was convinced the treatment plant could handle the wastewater and had obligation to help out in such a venture.

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