Driller Wants to Use Rock Waste for Roads
31 January 2014
By Don Hopey
Range Resources wants to start using gas well drilling "cuttings"
-- the waste rock material brought to the surface at well drilling
sites -- as a paving material to build Marcellus and Utica shale
gas drilling pads and access roads.
The Range application for a state general permit is the first by a
Marcellus Shale gas drilling company under a state "beneficial
use" general permit, according to John Poister, a state Department
of Environmental Protection spokesman.
"The project involves the beneficial use of vertical drill cutting
from natural gas wells as an aggregate in a stabilized soil
pavement for construction of Marcellus and Utica Shale well pads
and access roads," according to a notice in today's Pennsylvania
Bulletin, where state permitting actions are recorded.
The notice said DEP received the "registration" from Range
Resources on Jan. 10. A 60-day public comment period begins today.
Matt Pitzarella, a Range Resources spokesman, said the company has
long wanted to use drilling cuttings for road and pad construction
and noted that it's allowed in Texas.
He said granting the beneficial-use permit not only would save the
company money by reducing its disposal and road and pad materials
costs, but it also would benefit the environment by reducing the
amount of mined aggregate needed and the amount of waste material
sent to landfills.
If the state grants the permit application, Mr. Pitzarella said,
the company plans to first use drill cuttings to construct a pad
and access roads in Lycoming County.
"Hopefully, this can be a kicking-off point, a pilot project," he
The drilling cuttings material is classified as residual waste and
now is either buried on site or transported to a landfill for
disposal. In 2012, shale gas drillers disposed of about a million
tons of waste in Pennsylvania landfills, most of it drill
Some of those drill cuttings trucked to landfills set off
radiation alarms, causing the DEP, in January 2013, to start
studying and testing for radioactivity in drill cuttings,
wastewater and equipment at more than 100 sites across the state.
Mr. Pitzarella said "there's no reason to think there will be any
adverse environmental impact," especially since the company would
be using only vertical cuttings, not the horizontal shale
cuttings, which can contain more radiation.
"And regardless," he said, "the material must pass state standards
for road building materials or we won't be allowed to use it."
He also suggested that use of the drill cutting could eventually
be expanded to include local and state road paving.
But Briana Mordick, a petroleum geologist and staff scientist with
the Natural Resources Defense Council, said drill cuttings can
potentially contain radiation or other contaminants associated
with drilling mud. If used as paving material, those contaminants
can leach or wash out of the material and pollute soil and nearby
"Are the drill cuttings going to be properly tested and
characterized prior to their use on roads and drill pads?" Ms.
Mordick said. "We would have to know the contaminations in the
cuttings to assess the risk to surface waters and the
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.