DEP, Gas Drillers Seek Ways to Dispose of Wastewater

Scranton Times
14 January 2009
By Laura Legere, Staff Writer

The Department of Environmental Protection has formed a partnership with natural gas operators to find ways to treat and dispose of drilling wastewater that will rely less on releasing the diluted water into the state's streams and rivers.

The partnership aims to identify technologies to treat the highly salty water so it can be reused in multiple wells and to find geological formations where it can be disposed of underground.

Currently, gas companies operating both shallow, conventional wells and deep wells into the Marcellus Shale formation use industrial wastewater treatment plants or municipal wastewater facilities to treat and dilute the wastewater before releasing it into streams.

Marcellus Shale wells, in particular, have increased the demand on Pennsylvania streams that are already burdened by high-total dissolved solids from storm-water runoff, mine drainage, and industrial and sewage treatment plants. Each Marcellus Shale well is hydraulically fractured — a process of blasting cracks in the mile-deep shale with sand, chemicals and between two and five million gallons of water — and a portion of the water flows back laden with salt and metals.

"The rivers and streams of Pennsylvania have a very limited ability to absorb some of the additional wastewater created from the increased development of the Marcellus Shale formation," acting DEP Secretary John Hanger said.

One of DEP's tasks is to work with the partnership to set a limit for total dissolved solids in drilling wastewater discharges. No such limit currently exits, DEP spokeswoman Teresa Candori said.

The partnership, which met for the first time Tuesday in Harrisburg, includes at least 10 gas operators and representatives from established wastewater treatment facilities in the western part of the state.

A spokesman for Range Resources-Appalachia, one of the partner companies, said there are more than enough treatment facilities to sustain the projected increase in gas drilling in the state for many years. "This is us planning for the future," the spokesman, Matt Pitzarella, said.

He said the partnership will investigate evaporation techniques and on-site treatment of wastewater, as well as deep well disposal. The eventual solution will most likely be a "portfolio" of treatment and disposal options, he said.

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