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Cabot Recycling 100% of Pennsylvania Flowback

Despite recent complaints from one environmental group about methods used last year to dispose of some of its drilling wastewater, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.'s Marcellus Shale operations in Pennsylvania have been recycling 100% of flowback water for several months, a company spokesman told NGI's Shale Daily Wednesday.

"Starting in the spring of last year, we really went full bore into 100% recycling of our flowback," Cabot spokesman George Stark said. "We are no longer sending water to any disposal facility."

The Marcellus Shale Coalition has said its members recycle nearly 70% of the water they use in drilling operations.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) this week said the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) should take "swift and strong action" against Cabot for having disposed of more than 44,000 barrels of hydraulic fracturing and other drilling wastewater to a Hatfield Township, PA, treatment facility without DRBC review or approval. After being treated, the wastewater is alleged to have been discharged between 2009 and June 2010 into the West Branch Neshaminy Creek, a tributary to Neshaminy Creek that flows to the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, according to DRN.

"Because of this blatant violation of DRBC's rules and regulations, and the precedent that gets set for the future, it is important that the DRBC exercise all due enforcement authority for this violation," the environmental group said in a letter to DRBC dated Jan. 4.

Following a review of the case last year, DRBC ordered the Hatfield Township Municipal Authority and the owner of the treatment plant to stop accepting the wastewater, but no fines were handed down, according to Stark.

"We got notice from the DRBC last May and put an end to it," he said.

And last month Cabot agreed to pay $4.1 million under a settlement negotiated with the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to residents of Dimock Township in Susquehanna County, PA, whose drinking water supplies were contaminated by natural gas (see Shale Daily, Dec. 17, 2010).

With those issues closed, Cabot, whose growth engine is fueled by three shale plays -- the Marcellus, Eagle Ford and Haynesville/Bossier -- has moved forward with implementation of its flowback recycling plans.

"We've had the fortune to complete a vertical well utilizing nothing but recycled flowback water," Stark said. The 6,950-ft vertical well in Susquehanna County "was in two stages, but we had enough water for those two stages and we utilized it. That was something unique in the industry that we were able to do."

Pennsylvania implemented new wastewater treatment rules, which apply to gas drillers in the Marcellus Shale, beginning last August (see Daily GPI, Aug. 26, 2010). The permitted limit for discharges of wastewater from gas drilling in the state is now 500 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of total dissolved solids and 250 mg/l for chlorides. All new and expanding facilities that treat gas well wastewater must meet the discharge limits.

DRBC recently proposed rules that would allow water within the Delaware River Basin to be used for gas development if the water is "within the physical boundaries" of a DRBC-approved natural gas development plan (see Shale Daily, Dec. 10, 2010). Developers also would be allowed to reuse flowback and production waters, treated wastewater and mine drainage waters for natural gas development "under specified conditions."

DRBC's proposed rules have been opposed by several environmental groups, including the DRN.

"Their recent efforts to fast track regulations that will open the door to drilling despite a lack of needed science to inform the regulations was seen by many as a betrayal of the DRBC obligation to protect the river for the many rather than an industry few," according to Maya van Rossum, head of the DRN.

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