Prove your humanity

Journalist-filmmakers at Public Herald say they will not back down from reporting about a Lawrenceville company that is proposing a new plant at the headwaters of the Allegheny River to treat wastewater from fracking. The companies involved are demanding that the news outlet and groups opposed to the plan ‘cease and desist.’

Epiphany Allegheny LLC still needs local and state approvals for the first-of-its-kind distillation facility in Potter County, 325-miles upriver from Pittsburgh. It would accept and treat wastewater from drilling and fracking, and says it plans to route 42,000 gallons a day of discharges through the Coudersport sewage treatment plant.

When Melissa Troutman, executive director of the non-profit investigative news outlet Public Herald, started covering the proposal in January, she says no one was talking about what this waste contained.

“So I wrote an editorial that put the word “radioactive” and the word “toxic” into the public sphere and into the discussion about the facility,” she said.

Melissa Troutman is the founder of the independent, nonprofit investigative news outlet Public Herald and the director of Triple Divide [Redacted]. Photo: Patrick Hogan

Then earlier this week, Public Herald received two letters to “cease and desist” its coverage – one from Epiphany, the other from JKLM Energy, which would be the facility’s primary wastewater customer.

“Honestly, I thought somebody was pranking me,” Troutman said.

“We are not alone in voicing those concerns, and we will not be bullied into silence.”

The letter from JKLM, signed by James Hankle of SGK law firm of Pittsburgh, called Public Herald’s statements false and defamatory.

“….they expressly state or clearly imply that through its use of the facility, JKLM will be discharging radioactive material directly into the Allegheny River,” the letter stated. “Contrary to your defamatory statements, no radioactive waste or “toxic waste” will be discharged into the Allegheny River. The Facility is designed to remove all radioactive material,” it continued.

Melissa Troutman disputes this.

“We have never said that they are going to be dumping untreated radioactive material into the river. That’s just blatantly false,” she said.

Troutman said the companies might be blaming Public Herald for comments made by concerned citizens.

Epiphany and JKLM also sent letters to the group Save the Allegheny, and the Seneca Nation of Indians, which have both voiced opposition to the project. In a news release, Seneca President Todd Gates, whose reservation land is 65-miles down river in New York, vowed to remain active against the plant, because he is not convinced of its safety.

WATCH: Seneca Nation Rallies to Defend River from Fracking Wastewater:

“We have concerns about the impacts the project could have on the water quality of the Ohi:yo,’ or Allegheny River — impacts that we and many others could be left to live with for generations,” he said. “We are not alone in voicing those concerns, and we will not be bullied into silence.”