The issue is a sleeper no more. This excellent piece by Anya Litvak in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Power Source section describes the stirrings of what will almost undoubtedly be a tsunami of refracking in Pennsylvania.
But as the story notes, unless state requirements change, the growth of refracking will be hard to track:
Operators in the state aren’t required to get a permit to refrack a well, but they must notify the Department of Environmental Protection at least 24 hours before the process begins. After the refrack is done, the company must submit a well completion report.
There is no easy way to find out how many companies have refracked wells or how many are planning to...This is a big issue for Pennsylvania. Here are just a few implications of the rise of refracking:
- Widespread refracking will keep open indefinitely the wounds gouged on the landscape by unconventional oil and gas development. Site reclamation will be "temporary" for a very long time, and permanent site restoration measures like well pad and infrastructure removal and tree planting could be put off for years - or decades. This will have unknown, and likely profound, impacts on habitats and forest integrity, especially.
- Refracking on the public lands will make ecological, recreational and aesthetic damage and conflicts effectively permanent for the current generation of users - and maybe more.
- It promises renewed waves of truck traffic, noise, and re-exposure to all of the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing every five years or so for as long as refracking makes economic sense.
- It will exponentially increase the stress on water resources - both demand-side and waste disposal. Some industry observers have projected as many as 200,000 unconventional wells will be drilled in the Marcellus formation alone in Pennsylvania. An unknown percentage of those wells could be refracked multiple times over the coming decades. Fracking's water footprint expands immensely with refracking, and recycling and alternative water sourcing won't make a dent in that.
- Refracking will add greatly to the cumulative impacts of drilling.
- It could actually help to advance the business case for squeezing the water and chemicals out of fracking - if we're smart. But that's a big if.
First, you can't manage what you don't measure. As noted by the P-G, amazingly, refracking does not require a permit in Pennsylvania. It should - and it must. It's a repeat of an intensive industrial activity that originally required a permit.
Second, this activity - and all of the industry's water use, waste production, treatment, and disposal must be monitored, reported on, and tracked along the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction.
Third, the state's regulations and oversight must be updated and enhanced to deal with refracking. What additional tests or controls should be required to insure the integrity of refracked wells? What other measures are necessary? Is there capacity to dispose of some multiple of the waste water volume from fracking? There are many more questions.
The stirring of this sleeper issue must be a wake-up call for Pennsylvania.