Data lacking on 60% of West Virginia’s gas drilling waste disposal; DEP allows drilling waste as fill in Hazleton

Data lacking on gas drilling waste disposal by Ken Ward Jr., October 22, 2013, The Charleston Gazette
A 2011 law has provided new information about what natural gas companies are doing with the huge amounts of waste generated by West Virginia’s drilling boom, but major data gaps remain, a legislative committee heard Tuesday. Evan Hansen, president of the consulting firm Downstream Strategies, said the state requires drilling operators to report what they do with only about 38 percent of the waste they produce. “We have no idea what happens to the other roughly 62 percent of waste that’s being generated at the wells in West Virginia,” Hansen told the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources.

Hansen offered lawmakers a sneak peek at a new report his firm is putting together to provide the first look at what West Virginia regulators know about the huge amounts of water used and waste generated by the boom in natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. … But in examining a database maintained by the Department of Environmental Protection, Hansen’s firm found some unreliable data, gaps in required reporting, and inadequate enforcement of the reporting requirements. For example, 35 percent of wells did not report required data, Hansen said. And West Virginia only required operators to file reports about “flowback” fluids that come back out of wells, not other types of waste, Hansen said. Still, Hansen said, the DEP data is the best currently available, and allowed his firm to draw some conclusions about water use and waste disposal by the industry. They estimate, for example, that the average Marcellus well in West Virginia uses about 5 million gallons of water. Hansen said that while that sounds like a lot, it really depends on the source of the water and the season it was withdrawn from a stream or lake. More than 80 percent of water withdrawals by the natural gas industry came from surface waters such as streams, Hansen said. Only about 8 percent of the water used came from recycling water that was previously used in an earlier fracking operation, he said.

Still, the industry has increased the share of its total water use that it recycles. About 78 percent of total flowback fluids are now reused to frack more than one well, Hansen said. Most of the wastewater from drilling operations that is not being reused is being sent to underground injection wells for disposal, Hansen said. Overall, fifty-seven percent of  “flowback fluids” remains in West Virginia for reuse or disposal. Twenty-two percent is shipped to Pennsylvania, mostly for reuse, and another 21 percent is shipped to Ohio, mostly for underground injection, Hansen said. Hansen recommended that West Virginia require better reporting of the data, make the datasets available online in a searchable format, and compel operators who aren’t reporting to do so. “We really are talking about large quantities of water and large quantities of waste,” Hansen said. “Waste handling is a crucial question….” [Emphasis added]

DEP OKs drill cuttings as fill in city by Kent Jackson, October 11, 2013, Standard Speaker
A company can use drill cuttings from natural gas wells while reclaiming 277 acres in Hazleton, the state Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday. Hazleton Creek Properties received approval to accept drill cuttings from one site – Clean Earth of Williamsport, department Spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said. Previously, drill cuttings have been disposed in Pennsylvania landfills with liners, and it was unclear Thursday if Hazleton Creek would line the area where cuttings will be placed. Clean Earth has approval to process up to 1,000 tons of cuttings per day, so that is the limit that Hazleton Creek could receive daily, Connolly said.

Before shipping cuttings, Clean Earth tests them for radiation, which can occur naturally in rocks through which the drills pass. Clean Earth also tests for metals, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds entering and leaving the plant. The cuttings come from drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale formation that holds natural gas. Cuttings include rocks and soil. They arrive as mud at Clean Earth’s plant, where they are dried and stabilized with materials such as cement. Dan Mueller, manager of Clean Earth, said his company doesn’t process cuttings that contain fracking fluids. A time lag occurs between drilling and fracking so there’s no difficulty separating cuttings from fracking material, Mueller said.

Hazleton Creek is the third brownfield in the state approved to accept drill cuttings from Clean Earth. In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the former New Jersey Zinc plant in Palmerton also has been approved, Connolly said. Mueller said Clean Earth also has transported processed cuttings to a site on Canal Road in Philadelphia. Hazleton Creek is reclaiming strip mines and former landfills bounded by state Routes 93, 309 and 924. The company, a limited partnership based in Kingston and owned by William Rinaldi and Marvin Slomowitz, hopes to build an amphitheater for nationally known performers, stores and other businesses on the land after reclaiming it.

The department has inspected Hazleton Creek’s site 30 times since January 2007. In the most recent routine inspection on July 18, inspectors noticed the amount of soil mixed with material from construction and demolition site was piled higher than 2 feet, the permitted height limit. Inspectors told workers about the violation, but issued no fine, Connolly said. [Emphasis added]

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