Earthworks Accountability Project Report – Its Conclusions Regarding Marcellus Flowback in Pennsylvania

A recently released October, 2013 report by the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project out of Durango, Colorado contains some interesting statements on the amount and method of flowback disposal associated with Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale gas production.  This report was prepared by Downstream Strategies out of Morgantown, West Virginia and San Jose State University out of San Jose, California.  The report is entitled “Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania”. 

This seventy eight page report takes a close look at water use and wastewater disposal in the two states and provides some recommendations, among other things, on what steps should be adopted to more accurately account for the water being used and disposed in shale gas operations. The shale gas producers as well as regulators in both states will need to review this full report to determine the accuracy of some of its statements and conclusions.

The most glaring concern of this reviewer, based on a cursory review of the report, was the report’s presentation of the wastewater (flowback) disposal amounts in Pennsylvania.  As Pennsylvania operators are well aware, flowback and produced water disposal in that state have been a major issue since March, 2011, when then DEP Secretary Krancer issued a request to all unconventional producers in the Commonwealth.  This request asked operators to cease all flowback and produced water disposal at treatment plants that discharged into Pennsylvania surface waterways.  The primary motivation for this request was the observed increase in bromide levels at public water supply intakes along the Allegheny, Beaver and Ohio Rivers.  Most unconventional producers complied with this request within a 30 to 90 day timeframe. This request from the DEP and the subsequent response by the unconventional producers was a significant event in the history of shale gas production in Pennsylvania – yet no mention of it is found in the body of the report.  Ironically, the results of industry’s compliance with the request appear to be obvious in Table 21 of the report.  This table shows that in 2008, 43 percent of industry’s wastewater went to municipal sewage treatment plants, in 2011 this number dropped to less than 1 percent.  It is also curious that the amounts shown as going to industrial treatment plants is still 30 percent in 2011; it is likely that the 2012 numbers would show a significant decrease in that percentage.  Conclusions based on 2012 numbers alone, rather than a four year average of 2008 through 2011, should show a nearly total elimination of wastewater being discharged to surface waters of the Commonwealth.

Gary Slagel, who most recently retired as the Senior Advisor of Environmental Affairs for CONSOL Energy, has joined the firm as a Government Affairs Specialist. Mr. Slagel is an engineering graduate from the University of Dayton and spent 35 years with CONSOL and CNX Gas in several capacities including Director of Environmental Regulatory Affairs and later Director of Government Affairs working on both coal and natural gas issues.
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