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Pennsylvania Senator Pushing Treated Coal Water For Oil/Gas Wells

A Pennsylvania senator has introduced legislation that would limit the liabilities for any oil and natural gas producer that uses treated coal mine water to drill and stimulate its wells.

SB 875, introduced by Republican state Sen. Camera Bartolotta of southwest Pennsylvania, is primarily aimed at reducing the use of fresh water for drilling and completion operations.

"Since both of these industries require the use of millions of gallons of water, using treated mine water in the natural gas drilling process holds the potential to substantially reduce the withdrawal demand placed upon Pennsylvania's waterways," Bartolotta said. "Questions regarding legal liability are the most serious barrier preventing more companies from utilizing this innovative process. My legislation would help clear up any confusion relating to liability."

The state, seeking to dispose of acid coal mine drainage currently flowing into streams and rivers, has in recent years been pushing the use of that water for horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) (see Shale Daily, Jan. 14, 2013). Last year, the state Senate tabled a bill that would have limited the liability of drillers that use polluted water from mines across the state to frack their wells. That legislation met staunch opposition from more than two-dozen public advocacy and environmental organizations (see Shale Daily, Jan. 17, 2014).

But Bartolotta's bill addresses the use of treated coal mine water in impoundment ponds. More specifically, it would limit a driller's liability to only the water it takes from those ponds.

"Under current law, the use of treated mine water by the oil and gas industry is deterred by a lack of clearly defined liability limits," Bartolotta said in a memo to lawmakers last month. "As a remedy, this bill establishes two narrow limits on liability. First, the bill ensures an oil and gas well operator cannot be held liable for any perpetual treatment and abatement of mine drainage or mine pool water when acquiring treated mine water for well development.

"This will remain the obligation of the mine operator," she added. "Secondly, the bill clarifies that a mine operator offering treated mine water cannot be held liable for its off-site use by an oil and gas operator."

In 2012, the state Senate passed a bill limiting the liability of mine operators and landowners for any injury or damage caused by the use of mine drainage in oil and gas wells (see Shale Daily, Oct. 22, 2012). Bartolotta emphasized that "nothing in her bill would undermine existing laws pertaining to water quality and treatment for mine operators or gas and oil companies."

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