Hydraulic Fracturing and Marcellus Shale

Yesterday, hydraulic fracturing and Marcellus shale were front page news — both locally and nationally.

The top story in the Centre Daily Times was “Forest Leases Under Fire.” Already, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has issued leases to gas companies for nearly half of its 1.5 million acres of state forest. At issue are concerns that current Governor Tom Corbett will over turn a moratorium enacted by outgoing Governor Ed Rendell. According to a study by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) there remain “zero state forest land acres suitable for gas leasing involving surface disturbance.”

In an interesting twist, the article reported that further development would threaten the sustainability certification of Pennsylvania’s forests. In particular, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has certified that the Commonwealth’s state forest operations are sustainable, based on factors including a 2 percent rate of conversion of forests over any five-year span. However, even without further leasing, several state forests are projected to lose more than 2% of their acreage to conversion by 2020, jeopardizing their certification. Some 35 wood-industry related companies have attained FSC certification for adopting sustainable practices in Pennsylvania, which they use as a selling point for their products. They stand to forfeit their certification if their harvests come from forests deemed to be losing acreage unsustainably. An expansion of drilling in state forests — as Corbett has suggested — would exacerbate the problem.

In another front page story, the New York Times continued its Drilling Down series which examines the risks of natural-gas drilling and efforts to regulate this rapidly growing industry. The latest installment announced “Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas Process.” Lately, the oil and gas industry has been touting innovations in wastewater recycling. But apparently the rhetoric and reality don’t match up. In Pennsylvania, for example, natural gas companies recycled less than half of the wastewater they produced during the 18 months that ended in December, according to state records.

According to Brent Halldorson, chief operating officer of Aqua-Pure/Fountain Quail Water Management, a drilling wastewater recycling company: “No one wants to admit it, but at some point, even with reuse of this water, you have to confront the disposal question.” He added that the wastewater contains barium, strontium and radioactive elements that need to be removed.

Data posted by the commonwealth on Tuesday, show that operators produced more than 680 million gallons of wastewater in the year and a half that ended in December 2010. Of this amount, well operators reported recycling at least 320 million gallons. At least 260 million gallons of wastewater were sent to plants that discharge their treated waste into rivers. Another 50 million gallons or more of wastewater is unaccounted for, according to state records.

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