Water quality issues are across the board when it comes to Marcellus Shale. From the start, folks generally are concerned about their private water supplies. Then there are the issues regarding surface water versus groundwater withdrawals for industry use in drilling and fracing operations. In addition, many operators employ the use of both fresh and flowback water impoundments. Abandoned Mine Drainage AMD is being supported as a viable water source for industry use. And, after all is said and done, there is the issue of what to do with the flowback and produced waters, treat, reuse/recycle, treated discharge, distillation and deep injection wells.
The Northern Tier is located within the Susquehanna River Basin. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission regulates water withdrawals for many uses, golf courses, ski resorts, manufacturing concerns, the gas industry and more. The SRBC does not regulate water quality. Water quality is under the auspices of the PA DEP.
The SRBC has considerable information regarding the Basin’s Marcellus Shale activity. The Resource Portal is helpful for seeking information on a particular water withdrawal. The Remote Water Quality Monitoring Network gathers data on many monitors sited throughout the Northern Tier Region. And, there is live and archived data available for the public’s perusal. The SRBC also has a public participation component. They have quarterly meetings the public may attend, hearings, and they also adhere to a rulemaking procedure for regulation revisions.
How close is too close? This photo was taken a few years ago. Now, for well pad placement to be this close an operator has to obtain a waiver but can only do so after satisfying PA DEP requirements.
There are times when a properly placed impoundment can provide good service for a constant water supply and storage area for the industry in preparation of seasonal low water periods and times of drought. Ideally the impoundment and access road will have an adequate buffer between the facility and nearby homes.
PA DEP has published a White Paper: Utilization of Mine Influenced Water for Natural Gas Extraction Activities regarding the use of AMD and fracing.
The use of AMD in fracing operations solves two environmental problems. It helps reduce the flow of AMD water in our impaired streams and reduces the withdrawal of fresh water from other sources.
What to do with the flowback and produced waters is perhaps our greatest water challenge. Presently, how the water is handled is as varied as the operator who has it generating from their activities. Chesapeake Energy for example, touts their Aqua Renew program as recycling the majority of their flowback and produced waters.
Cabot Oil & Gas touts they recycle 100% of their drilling and completion fluids. In nearby Williamsport, PA, Eureka Resources treats water to distillation. More recently, HydroRecovery in Blossburg, Tioga County began treating flowback and produced water.
Deep injection wells are really the preferred method for the management of this wastewater stream. Presently, Pennsylvania has less than ten deep injection wells and only a few are able to currently accept this wastewater. Deep injection wells are regulated in Pennsylvania under the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Program. Currently, most of the Northern Tier Region’s waste water slated for injection is hauled out of state to places such as Ohio where injection wells are available.
Here are some links listed below for individuals wanting more information:
– River Basin Approaches to Water Management in the Mid-Atlantic States
– The Impact of Marcellus Gas Drilling on Rural Drinking Water Supplies
– Water Withdrawals for Development of Marcellus Shale Gas in Pennsylvania
– FINDING ANSWERS – Drinking Water Issues
Environmental Defense Fund