"We can't do anything without water. It's the basis of all life. It's a sacred resource." The first report from our new Pittsburgh reporting bureau.
Last month more than 100 Seneca Nation tribal members showed up at the monthly meeting of the local municipal authority in the small town of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, carrying protest signs and ceremonial drums.
A legacy of mistrust and a small startup<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1c09f12581cb4834195f95cf7340bb2d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-dSKOGxd3sQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This isn't the first time the Seneca Nation's resources have been threatened.</p><p>"We seem to be always reacting to forces beyond our control outside our borders," Gates said, noting that in 1965, the federal government flooded 10,000 acres of Seneca Nation Land to create the Kinzua Dam, displacing more than 600 tribal members. The land-grab desecrated the Seneca Nation's ceremonial burial grounds and violated the Canandaigua Treaty, which had been signed by President George Washington.</p><p>"It was an affront to our culture," Gates said, "and it lends itself to a distrust of companies and government agencies that try to come tell us what we need to do to get along."</p><p>The company proposing the fracking wastewater plant is a small, Pittsburgh-based startup called Epiphany Water Solutions, LLC. The company, which has 12 employees, operates from a former warehouse on a residential street in Pittsburgh's trendy Lawrenceville neighborhood. </p><p>This project would be Epiphany's first commercial fracking wastewater treatment plant. In January, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) <a href="http://files.dep.state.pa.us/RegionalResources/NCRO/NCROPortalFiles/Epiphany/Clean%20Water/01.11.18_Epiphany_Email_Correspondence.pdf" target="_blank">rejected their initial permit application</a> due to technical deficiencies, requesting clarification on the water quality monitoring, among other items. Epiphany has since submitted an updated permit application that's still under review.</p><p>Founded in 2009, one of the company's initial projects involved harnessing solar power to remove the salt from seawater to make it drinkable. They soon realized they could apply the same technology to fracking wastewater, which contains about seven times the amount of salt as seawater, and in 2012 they secured $500,000 in funding from Consol Energy to fund a fracking wastewater cleaning pilot project. </p><p>"Our original and ongoing mission as a business is to provide clean drinking water for people all over the world," Epiphany co-founder and chief technology officer Tom Joseph said. "We're doing this not because we have deep-seated love for the oil and gas industry, but because we care for our world and the environment."</p><p>The company is no stranger to unconventional projects. In 2013, Epiphany also launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for <a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/epiphanylabs/epiphany-one-puck/comments" target="_blank">a heat-powered, phone charging coffee coaster</a>. The project was fully funded through donations from people who wanted the product, but it ultimately fell apart due to logistical challenges and Epiphany <a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/epiphanylabs/epiphany-one-puck/comments?cursor=16126866#comment-16126865" target="_blank">never delivered any of the coasters or issued refunds to most backers</a> (despite <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2015/08/13/Crowdfunders-such-as-those-for-Epiphany-s-onE-Puck-grow-impatient/stories/201508130045" target="_blank">promises to do so</a>). </p><p>Joseph said they've issued refunds to "several backers who requested them," and are still working on the rest due to issues with Kickstarter's payment system.</p>
Opposition mounts<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xNzQ4MDMwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzIyMTk4Mn0.P5srltueZuksfZomb_gL8R5xNaAHkO6uRg45KCJce-E/img.jpg?width=980" id="a6bc7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd764bf345fccf87a2d3960a21609a6b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Every community on the Allegheny River between New York and Pittsburgh is downstream of the proposed wastewater treatment plant. (Credit: jpellgen/flickr)<p>The Seneca Nation has other concerns, too—about how the buildup of heavy metals and radioactive materials removed through the distillation process will be stored and disposed of, and about the site being on a 100-year floodplain, to name a few. </p><p>And the Seneca Nation isn't the only group skeptical about the plan.</p><p>The DEP received more than 3,000 public comments about the project during a 30-day period. </p><p>Pittsburgh representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the American Indian Law Alliance and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation all sent letters expressing concern about Epiphany's permit application.</p><p>The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers questioned Epiphany's water quality monitoring system and about the site being on a 100-year floodplain, noting that "in the event of a flood or spill resulting in the loss of the stored material into the Allegheny River, the risk to water resources is high." </p><p>The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also urged the DEP to require more stringent water quality monitoring than was proposed in Epiphany's permit application, suggesting that even if the water was tested after leaving Epiphany, it should be re-tested for radioactive elements, heavy metals, and total dissolved solids right before entering the Allegheny River to "provide assurance to downstream communities."</p><p>The <a href="http://www.salamancapress.com/news/coudersport-borough-council-opposes-treatment-plant/article_add6ebba-2e9e-11e8-ab1f-87c97e36ae63.html" target="_blank">Coudersport Borough Council</a>, a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/catharine-young/senator-young-joins-seneca-nation-and-others-opposing" target="_blank">Senator from New York</a>, at least <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lw48oTl9Jx_10h9_QhT4N2QUOIKIaFFd/view" target="_blank">one physician</a>, and <a href="http://www.salamancapress.com/news/salamanca-officials-support-sni-county-opposition-to-fracking-plant/article_900214e4-291b-11e8-af5f-7f5790217a6d.html" target="_blank">the government of Cattaraugus County</a>, which neighbors the Seneca Nation in New York, have stated their opposition to Epiphany's project, and a community activist group called <a href="http://www.savetheallegheny.org/" target="_blank">Save the Allegheny</a> has raised the alarm that the proposed plant is less than a mile from the local elementary school.</p><p>"When we learned about the proposal, our first concern was 'oh my god, look how close this is to the school,'" Laurie Barr, a Potter County resident and the founder of Save the Allegheny, said. </p><p>Barr points to Epiphany's failed phone charger Kickstarter as evidence that the company has a track record of poor communication and breaches of trust with stakeholders. </p><p>"If this project goes badly, Epiphany can just pack up shop and go open some other business in another name," Barr said. "Coudersport can't do that."</p><p>Joseph accused Barr and her group of intentionally spreading false information as a fear tactic.</p><p>"We've been in touch with [Save the Allegheny] from the beginning," Joseph said. "And what you have to know is that these are not good people. These are anti-fracking fanatics. They don't care about the community. They don't care about the environment."</p><p>Joseph also said the Seneca Nation is only concerned about the plant because they've received false information from members of Save the Allegheny. He said the Seneca Nation recently pushed back their scheduled meeting with Epiphany.</p><p>"They continue to make incorrect statements about Epiphany's facility and have not yet given us the opportunity to provide them with the facts and scientific data that would eliminate their concerns," he said.</p><p>Since we spoke with Joseph, a law firm representing Epiphany has sent <a href="http://publicherald.org/award-winning-filmmakers-seneca-nation-threatened-fracking-industry-defamation/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+publicherald+%28Public+Herald%29" target="_blank">cease and desist letters</a> to the Seneca Nation and a pair of investigative journalists at the Public Herald who've written about the proposed treatment plant.</p>