Appalachian Basin

Water Recycling- Its Working in Pennsylvania

In case you missed it, in April the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered natural gas producers to stop hauling produced and flowback water from natural gas drilling operations to publicly-owned wastewater treatment utilities for treatment and disposal.  While the industry welcomed the message and reacted quickly to meet its charge, as could be predictably expected,  anti-gas development interests claimed the mandate would never be met without the force of law and a strong backstop (sound familiar).

Almost immediately, natural gas producers eliminated the practice from their operations which was independently verified by DEP shortly thereafter.  In fact, the situation was so swiftly and succesfully implemented that multiple news outlets desribed the development as a “dramatic sea change” in operations.

However, in their relentless pursuit of the truth and complete distrust of any organization other than their own, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 3 office in a letter dated May 12, 2011 demanded that drillers in the Marcellus inform them of “information concerning your disposal and recycling activities and intentions with respect to the wastewater genergated by your Marcellus Shale energy exploration, extraction and production activities…”.  EPA required this information to be submitted within 13 days of sending the letter, 9 not including weekends, because after all who wants to work on a weekend.  A copy of the letter can be found here.

Well, despite the short timetable and the fact that the progress had already been reported by the press and confirmed by PA DEP, U.S. EPA got their wish.  All companies responded with the plans they implemented all of which reflected technological advances developed and refined in the Marcellus Shale.  What did their data and responses show?  That as an industry producers will recycle 90% of the water utilized in their operations in the Marcellus.  In fact, in quoting John Hanger from his limited appearance on the Diane Rehm show earlier this month, more on that here, “the amount of drilling wastewater now being discharged to Pennsylvania’s waters is less than before the first Marcellus well was drilled.”

Here is a synopsis of  the data submitted to EPA from producers operating in Pennsylvania:

  • Atlas said it intends on recycling 100% of wastewater by the end of 2011
  • Cabot said it plans on recycling all wastewater from Pennsylvania operations using a third-party contractor’s recycling equipment
  • Chesapeake said it will either recycle waste or dispose of it at permitted UIC wells (with a 90 percent recycling rate)
  • Range said it has been recycling or disposing its wastewater at injection wells.
  • Talisman has reported a goal of 100% recycling with 90% recycling by the close of 2011

Here is yet another story of the industry adopting innovation to lessen its footprint on the environment.  The average size of a finished well pad is dropping to about 1.5 acres, nearly 100% of wastewater is being recycled in Pennsylvania and other innovations are resulting in significantly lowered emissions while transforming the way natural gas is recovered.  All of it is being done here in the Marcellus! All while saving a local business or two along the way and providing needed jobs to areas that have been plagued by chronic unemployment for decades.

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