Brewery Ommegang has been talking out of both sides of its mouth on the subject of water supplies and natural gas. It has been bad mouthing the natural gas industry for potentially threatening its water supply while securing special permits and a variance to discharge wastewater to the Susquehanna River, which is Binghamton’s water supply.
Sometimes you wonder how our friends on the other side manage to keep it together. Well, they don’t really, but the hypocrisy of those who, without thinking, rush into to oppose hydraulic fracturing and natural gas development often borders on the bizarre.
We’ve heard a lot over the last two years, for example, from a Cooperstown, New York brewery that goes by the name of Ommegang. They have issued all kinds of inflammatory statements about how the natural gas industry will, supposedly, threaten their source of water for the popular beers they produce just south of the famous village where the Deerslayer made his debut. They were a driving force in getting the Town of Middlefield to enact a contested ban on natural gas development.
Astoundingly, now the company itself plans to discharge 35,000 gallons per day of wastewater into the Susquehanna River, upstream of Binghamton’s source of drinking water. On October 1, 2012, Ommegang applied for and received a DEC permit to dump contaminants into the Susquehanna River and they also received special permission to horizontally drill their way under a wetland to the source of their proposed outfall.
The Town of Middlefield, of course, is a controversial place, that town having chosen to enact a ban on natural gas development that is still working its way through the courts. Brewery Ommegang, together with some other area enterprises, issued a fact-barren statement on natural gas development in March, 2011, that included this paragraph (emphasis added):
The Otesaga [Hotel], Cooper Inn and Leatherstocking Golf Course, together with Brewery Ommegang are among the most popular and successful tourist destinations in the region. Many thousands of visitors enjoy our facilities on the banks of Lake Otsego each year; the Hotel also hosts numerous business meetings, conventions, weddings and entertainment activities; and the Brewery is nationally recognized for some of the highest quality beers produced in the United States. We believe that the natural beauty of the lake and the surrounding area plays an important role in attracting visitors to our properties and that this is now imperiled by hydrofracking. In addition to the contamination of the watershed, other risks to our area include tanker traffic clogging our narrow and rural roads and the existence of unsightly drilling rigs spoiling the landscape. To be sure, the presence of hydrofracking will diminish the attractiveness of our area and render it less desirable as a tourism destination. Beyond spoiling the rural character of our environment and endangering our health, jobs will be lost and population migration from our area will be unavoidable. With hydrofracking activities dotting our landscape, property values are likely to decline thereby rendering the Cooperstown region a less desirable place to live, work and visit.
It would hard to craft a longer string of baseless allegations and it’s clear the brewery folks are more concerned by aesthetics than facts. What really caught my eye, nevertheless, was their assertion there will be “contamination of the watershed.” They even talked to the Washington Post about it:
Larry Bennett, Ommegang’s P.R. and creative services manager, says the brewery is worried about a process called “hydrofracking,” commonly used by drillers, which involves pumping a pressurized stream of water and chemicals into the earth to shatter rock sediments and extract the gas. Bennett and other opponents of drilling claim that it will leave behind a toxic residue of benzene, diesel fuel, methane gas and other contaminants in the aquifer.
While the brewery can treat water to remove sediment and adjust the pH, Ommegang doesn’t have the resources to filter out the chemicals, asserts Bennett.
If its water supply were compromised, Bennett said, the brewery would have three options.
One is to truck in water from outside the area. The New York City aquifer, he noted, is exempted from drilling and is only 40 miles away. But hauling in enough water to supply the brewery’s current needs, let alone allow it to keep growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year, would be difficult and expensive.
Another option would be to relocate elsewhere. And a third would be to call it quits and shutter the brewery, putting more than 80 employees out of work. “Obviously, that’s our last option,” said Bennett.
There’s not a single case where hydraulic fracturing has been proven to contaminate a water supply, but that’s a story we’ve told before. What’s interesting this time is Brewery Ommegang’s plans which do include putting contaminants into water supplies. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), on August 29, 2012, issued a notice of receiving a completed application from Brewery Ommegang that includes the following project description (emphasis added):
The applicant proposes to construct a new on-site wastewater treatment plant with a surface discharge of 35,000 GPD for treated wastewater from the production plant to outfall to the Susquehanna River. Construction of the effluent line involves directional boring through NYS Regulated Freshwater Wetland. This also includes the modification of the facilities original outfall (outfall 002) septic tank and leach field, once the new treatment plant is online, the discharge to outfall 002 will be decreased to 3,800 GPD.
While the facility will certainly not run at full capacity, 35,000 gallons per day is the equivalent of 12,775,000 gallons per year – more than enough to hydraulically fracture two horizontal wells, but let’s not quibble about that. Moreover, three times the amount of water discharged to the Susquehanna leaves the watershed as beer, a literally consumptive water use. What matters, though, is this; the discharge will go to the Susquehanna River. What’s in the discharge? Well the brewmaster says, “The actual effluent will look like a clear glass of water.” That means little, however, as our friend Uni Blake, who has a toxicology background, notes:
Wastewater Constituents: Brewery wastewater usually contains sugars, starches, fatty acids, ethanol, waste yeast and some chemical cleaners. What is of most concern for wastewater treatment in a brewery’s wastewater is Total Suspended Solids (TSS). This portion of the waste includes the grain particles, dirt, coagulated proteins and other solids that are washed down the drain during the brewing processes. High TSS means the microbes in the receiving water and/or soil have food, but as they consume the TSS, they deplete the oxygen supply (also known as the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD)). Low oxygen in water is not good for aquatic organisms.Hazard Chemicals: Hazard chemicals are used in the breweries. These chemicals are used for cleaning and disinfecting. To better understand the chemicals, a quick search of the internet netted this company that sells products that breweries use on a regular basis. Some of these products include proprietary cleaning solutions. These chemicals do not require a permit for use but are handled under OSHA’s standards. However, they occur in small enough concentrations in the spent water and as a result the wastewater is not regulated as hazardous.
Mr. Phil Leinhardt of Brewery Ommegang and a representative of Lamont Engineers presented the board with the site plan for the Wastewater Treatment Plant, a rendering of the physical plant, and a document that describes in detail the Industrial MBR System that will treat the brewery’s waste. As indicated during the discussion, Brewery Omegang has been granted a variance to discharge the treated wastewater into the Susquehanna River. It was also reiterated that the DEC has determined that discharging the treated waste into the river is preferable to other alternatives, including discharge into an adjacent wetland. Members of the board are still concerned about the discharge of waste of any kind into the river.
The stretch of the Susquehanna River where the discharges will occur is listed as a “Class B” stream. Attached to this designation are several maximum levels of contaminants. The Class B stream standard for dissolved arsenic, for example, is 340 ug/L. It’s 10 ug/L for benzene and 2.0 ug/L for hydrogen sulfide, a diesel fuel constituent. Which brings us back to the question what kinds of contaminants are typically found in brewery wastewater? Well, a previous study shows contaminants like benzene and hydrogen sulfide, ammonia (standard is 0.7 to 50 ug/L maximum), nitrogen, phosphorous and methane.
How about that? Brewery wastes are a source of methane (natural gas). Perhaps we can become allies. We may even have a common opponent in Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan when he learns what’s being legally dumped into his City’s water supply.
Regardless, it appears Brewery Ommegang has been talking the talk, but walking a quite different walk. It had to secure a variance from the Middlefield Zoning Board of Appeals and four special permits from DEC (Freshwater Wetlands, SPDES – Groundwater Discharge, Stream Disturbance and Clean Water Act Water Quality Certification) to complete this project.
Frankly, I wish them luck. They’re doing nothing that shouldn’t be permitted. That said, there is significant irony in the fact Ommegang intends to bore horizontally under a wetland to discharge effluent directly into the Susquehanna River that contains some of the very same constituents they claim the natural gas industry will bring to the region.