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Our look at
GAS DRILLING WASTEWATER

Flowback and Brine Treatment in Pennsylvania

Someone may try to convince you that using 6-million gallons of water for fracing one gas well doesn't amount to a massive amount of water. Even if they are successful in making that argument, the next topic becomes flowback or brine. What do you do with the crap that comes back out of the ground?
  

Hawg Hauling wastewater tanker entering the McKeesport Municipal Authority
At one time, the Municipal Authority of McKeesport was accepting 80,000 gallons of drilling wastewater per day, which was then mixed with treated sewage and dumped into the Monongahela River upstream from Pittsburgh. Hawg Hauling is part of Chesapeake Energy.

Somewhere between 20% and 40% of the water used for hydro-fracing a gas well returns to the surface as flowback, and later as produced water. In addition to the frac fluids added by the gas drilling companies, this water picks up other contaminants from deep in the Earth (~ 7,000 feet deep) with one of the most notable ingredients being salt.

"The most serious issue we've encountered with pollution is with fracking fluid pits that leak. You're not bothering us if you call us, I encourage all of you to be our eyes and ears."

Alan Eichler - Manager of the Oil and Gas program at the Pa DEP's southwest region office, speaking to a group in Ligonier on January 25, 2011

These fluids contain sodium and calcium salts, barium, oil, strontium, iron, numerous heavy metals, soap, radiation and other components. This fluid combination becomes brine wastewater, and tanker trucks hauling it are labeled with a RESIDUAL WASTE placard. Treated brine is also sold for deicing and other applications that utilize calcium chloride, often being applied to roadways.

Wastewater evaporation pit in Washington County Pennsylvania

Brine wastewater is difficult and expensive to treat, one of the same reasons we aren't using much ocean water for agriculture and residential applications. The saltiness of this wastewater creates high levels of TDS (total dissoved solids). Incomplete processing of this brine wastewater, especially when dumped into rivers used for drinking water, creates a high TDS situation that causes drinking water treatment plants problems, like Trihalomethanes. High TDS water reacts with chlorine when it is processed creating these TTHM's.

The gas industry estimates the amount of high-TDS wastewater needing disposal in Pennsylvania will increase from 9 million gallons per day in 2009 to 20 million gallons per day by 2011

In other parts of the United States, gas drilling operations dispose of their wastewater deep in the ground, by using deep injection wells. However, the geology around Marcellus Shale doesn't lend itself as well to accepting deep injections, so the wastewater gets dumped back into Pennsylvania waterways. Early on in Marcellus drilling, many municipal treatment plants were accepting this briny wastewater and weren't equipped to process it. Add that situation to low river levels due to drought and you begin to have real problems.

Residual Waste tanker trucks on I-79 near Southpointe

Of course even if the wastewater is processed by an industrial level processing plant, we are left with serious questions about the frac fluids that remain in processed drinking water. Drilling companies argue that frac fluids make up a very small percentage of hydro-fracing, but even using their numbers frac fluids make up 1,500 gallons of a 3-million gallon well frac. Let's not forget that many wells can be fraced 10-times or more during the life of the well, to stimulate further gas production.

Marcellus drilling

In order to get a look at gas drilling wastewater treatment, this page provides a list of wastewater treatment facilities in various regions of Pennsylvania, as of July 2009. Some 20 permits for processing brine flowback in Pennsylvania are in the approval process. In early 2011, attention became focused on the potential for radioactive wastewater to create additional health risks for those drinking water from the same sources where the wastewater is dumped, often with very little real treatment.

RESIDUAL WASTE placard
Wastewater tankers only have to be
labelled with this basic placard

As Marcellus Shale gas drilling and fracking activites increase in the coming years, clean drinking water will become a much more critical issue for Pennsylvania and other states over the Marcellus Shale formation.

Bottoms up!
  


The April 21, 2009 sampling report below, using data from the West Virginia DEP, shows the make-up of wastewater that went to Liquid Assets Disposal (LAD) in Wheeling, WV for discharge into the Ohio River.


UPDATES

Waste and Wastewater Facilities in late-2012
Waste and Wastewater Facilities in early-2012
Waste and Wastewater Facilities in 2011
Waste and Wastewater Facilities in 2010
Waste and Wastewater Facilities in 2009-2010
Complete PA DEP Reports (offsite)


  

PENNSYLVANIA OIL & GAS
WASTEWATER FACILITY SUMMARY

Key to abbreviations:
MSW - Currently accepts Marcellus Shale Waste Water
O&G - Currently accepts Oil and Gas Waste Water not in the Marcellus Shale Formation.
P - Proposed Facility
  • PMSW - Proposed Marcellus Shale Waste
  • PO&G means Proposed Oil and Gas Waste not in the Marcellus Shale Formation
SW - Stripper Well
GPD - Gallons per Day
  
  
View wastewater facility chart shown below as a PDF file
  
Shallenberger Construction, PA Brine Josephine Franklin Brine, Hart Resource, Tunnelton Liquids, Mon Valley Brine, Green Earth Wastewater
Municipal Authority of Belle Vernon, Brownsville Municipal Authority, Waynesburg Borough, Borough of California, Franklin Township Sewer Authority, Authority of the Borough of Charleroi, Allegheny Valley Joint Sanitary Authority, Johnstown Redevelopment Authority Dornick Point STP
Allegheny Environmental Corp, Minard Run Oil Company, Big Sandy Oil Company, Titusville Oil and Gas Associates Inc Hilton Hedley Lease, Vavco LLC, Synergy Oil & Gas Co Inc, James M Bryerton, Ridgway Borough, Punxsutawney Borough, Brockway Area Sewage Authority, Reynoldsville Boro
Advanced Waste Services Castle Environmental, Waste Treatment Corporation, PA Brine Treatment Franklin Facility, Dominion Transmission Corp Div V, PA Brine Treatment Punxsutawney Facility, Rock Well Petroleum Production, PA Brine Treatment Rouseville Facility, Central PA Water Treatment LLC, Eureka Resources Williamsport Sanitary Authority, Water Treatment Solutions
Economy Locker Lycoming County Water & Sewer Authority, Sunbury Generation, Jersey Shore Borough, Clearfield Municipal Authority, Moshannon Valley Joint Sewer Authority, Lock Haven City Authority, Valley Joint Sewer Authority, Pine Creek Municipal Authority, Dannic Energy Corp, TerrAqua Resource Management
Central PA Wastewater Inc, Dannic Energy Corp, Somerset Regional Water Resources, Homer Enterprises, Greater Hazleton Joint Sewer Authority, North Branch Processing LLC, Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, Brine Treatment Services Inc, Wyoming Somerset Regional Water Resources LLC
  
 
  

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