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Our look at
GAS DRILLING WASTEWATER

Flowback & Brine in Pennsylvania


Someone may try to convince you that using 4-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?
  


Early in the Marcellus Shale drilling boom, 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 was 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.

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.

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.

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.


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

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!


PENNSYLVANIA BULLETIN, VOL. 46, NO. 5
JANUARY 30, 2016

OPERATE WASTE PROCESSING OR
DISPOSAL AREA OR SITE

Application(s) received Under the Solid Waste Management Act, the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act and Regulations to Operate Solid Waste Processing or Disposal Area or Site.

Northwest Region: Regional Solid Waste Manager, 230 Chestnut Street, Meadville, PA 16335-3481

Permit Application No. 301368. Range Resources Appalachia, LLC, 1369 Cochranton Road, Carlton, PA 16311. This is a new residual waste transfer station permit for the storage and transfer of residual waste known as the Carlton Residual Waste Transfer Station. The facility will be used only by Range Resources and the primarily residual waste will be brine waters. The application was received August 28, 2015 and a LMIP meeting was conducted on December 15, 2015. The application was found to be administratively complete by the Northwest Regional Office on January 11, 2015.

Persons interested in commenting on the permit may contact Todd Carlson, Program Manager, Northwest Regional Office, 230 Chestnut Street, Meadville, PA 16335 (814) 332-6848. TDD users may contact the Department through the Pennsylvania AT&T Relay Service, (800) 654-5984. Public comments must be submitted within 60 days of this notice and may recommend revisions to, and approval or denial of the application.

 

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.  Source: Professor Ben Stout, Wheeling Jesuit


MORE

Waste and Wastewater Facilities mid-2009 to mid-2010
Waste and Wastewater Facilities late-2010
Waste and Wastewater Facilities early-2011
Waste and Wastewater Facilities late-2011
Waste and Wastewater Facilities early-2012
Waste and Wastewater Facilities late-2012
Waste and Wastewater Facilities early-2013
Waste and Wastewater Facilities late-2013
Waste and Wastewater Facilities early-2014
Waste and Wastewater Facilities late-2014
Complete PA DEP Reports (offsite)

 

 

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