Appalachian Basin

Common Sense Legislation Allows Drillers to Conserve Water in Fracking Operations

Last week, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that would make it easier for oil and gas companies to use treated acid mine drainage (AMD) water to hydraulically fracture shale wells in the Commonwealth. The new Act 47, which is being touted as commonsense legislation, will also help further decrease the amount of fresh water consumption by Pennsylvania’s oil and natural gas industry.

Dave Spigelmyer, President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, told the Washington Observer-Reporter,

“While we’re still reviewing this legislation, commonsense approaches like this reflect innovative solutions that shale producers are leveraging across the Commonwealth aimed at enhancing our environment.”

The bill was first proposed by Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46) and was approved by the state House on September 21st by a measure of 160 -37. It also passed the Senate on September 29th by a measure of 29-18. According to Bartolotta:

“The beneficial use of treated mine water holds the potential to reduce the use of millions of gallons of fresh water in oil and gas operations. Clarifying liability issues will remove the biggest barrier to the use of this resource. One of my priorities is supporting the development of our natural resources and industry in a way that is safe and responsible. This approach to preserving fresh water supplies is exactly the kind of innovation that we should promote.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state spends $19 million annually on abandoned mine reclamation. If Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry can utilize the AMD water to complete shale wells then that could be a huge burden lifted off the DEP and more importantly, taxpayers.

And with the new legislation paving the way for companies to use the AMD, it has the potential to build on existing innovations that have already helped operators to lessen their water usage in the Marcellus. For instance, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported in 2013 that “across the state, more than 90 percent of the water that flows back to the surface during the hydraulic fracturing process is recycled for reuse at other wells, according the state Department of Environmental Protection.”

This significantly reduces the amount of fresh water being used to hydraulically fracture wells in Pennsylvania, which according to reports from Duke University and the U.S. Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), is already less than one percent of all water withdrawals for the entire industry across the country. From the Duke report:

“This estimated water use is 0.87% of the total industrial water used in the United States and only 0.04% of the total fresh water use per year in the United States.” (page 3, emphasis added)

Yet, despite this clear win-win legislation, environmental groups – as usual – are opposed to the new Act 47. According to Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director of the Delaware Riverkeeper:

“Governor Wolf has thrown in with the gas and oil companies by signing this law that promotes mine drainage for fracking while removing liability for the pollution this can cause. How can the Governor favor protecting these polluting industries over the public and the environment? This law is unjust for coal ravaged communities which will now be subjected to water raids and to those areas already reeling from shale gas development, and heaps further harm on Pennsylvania’s injured environment.”

Unfortunately for groups like the Delaware Riverkeeper – who are dug deep into their trenches in opposition to hydrocarbon development – science is not on their side. According to a 2013 study by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh:

“This approach would alleviate demand for fresh water by the gas industry, reduce environmental impact of AMD, reduce the cost of water transportation for hydraulic fracturing, reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by the gas industry and reduce the cost of wastewater treatment before reuse for hydraulic fracturing.”

Regulatory progress and commonsense legislation prove that Pennsylvania’s oil and natural gas industry can continue to be a boon to the Commonwealth’s economy while being protective of the environment and health of those living in the region.

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