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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Study: Marcellus drilling could choke on its own waste

The volume of drilling wastewater from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is growing and much of it is disposed of in deep injection wells in Ohio.  But a study from Ohio’s Kent State University published in the journal Water Resources Research says that could overwhelm Ohio’s disposal capacity and threaten natural gas development in Ohio’s Utica Shale.

The study, which analyzed Pennsylvania state data on gas production and wastewater generation for 2,189 gas wells, found that Pennsylvania generated about 20 million barrels (over 840 million gallons) of wastewater in 2011 , 7 million barrels (294 million gallons) of which were shipped to Ohio injection wells.  Ohio is projecting that its injection wells handled nearly 14 million barrels in 2012, more than half of that volume came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Pennsylvania does not have the geology necessary to accommodate deep well waste disposal.  There are only 5 such wells in PA.  Ohio can’t limit or ban the importation of the wastewater because the activity is protected under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.  

While the industry claims increased prevalence of wastewater recycling, the trend, if it continues, could be a real problem for Ohio, for Pennsylvania, for West Virginia - and for the natural gas industry.

As a side note, the study interestingly reported that Marcellus Shale horizontal wells are producing only about 35 percent as much wastewater per unit of gas recovered as conventional wells.  That is, on average, shale gas wells produced about 10 times the amount of wastewater as conventional wells, but they also produced about 30 times more natural gas.

The disposal dilemma is one of many factors that, in my view, should drive the natural gas industry to waterless, chemical-free fracking.  

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