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Reporting Error Throws Off Wastewater Statistics

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is having to revise wastewater statistics after one producer misreported figures.

Seneca Resources Corp., a subsidiary of National Fuel Gas Co. of Houston, said it over-reported its wastewater production figures for the last six months of 2010 by 4,200%. Seneca said the mistake came because the company accidentally reported its figures in gallons, not barrels. There are 42 gallons in a barrel.

"It was a very simple reporting mistake, period," Nancy Taylor, a spokeswoman for the company, told NGI's Shale Daily. The overstated figures became public Thursday after the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on the issue.

According to DEP reports, Seneca initially said it produced about 5.2 million bbl of brine and hydraulic fracturing fluid during the last six months of 2010, more than half of the total amount reported by all producers in the state during that time. At a 42-1 ratio, Seneca's actual wastewater production figures are probably closer to 125,000 bbl.

Wastewater management is currently the epicenter of the debate over Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania, following articles in the New York Times suggesting that Pennsylvania drinking water supplies could be contaminated by radioactive wastewater (see Shale Daily, March 1). The DEP recently released data from tests of seven Pennsylvania rivers showing no warning signs, but the reports led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take a more active role in local monitoring and enforcement (see Shale Daily, March 9; March 8).

Wastewater is generated from most drilling operations but is compounded in shale development because of the large volumes of fluid pumped underground during the hydraulic fracturing process. Some of that fluid stays underground, while some returns to the surface as produced water, bringing up natural brine from deep deposits.

Accounting for the new Seneca figures, the Inquirer article goes on to argue that recycling rates are much lower than originally thought. According to the article, the DEP reports initially showed that companies had been recycling 57% of their wastewater. With the revised Seneca figures, that would be closer to 17%.

Taylor told NGI's Shale Daily that Seneca currently recycles 100% of its wastewater, diluting the brine and fracturing fluids with fresh water to use in future wells.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the DEP claim much higher recycling figures, about 70% on the road to zero discharge.

Asked whether the Seneca incident represented a lone miscalculation or signified some larger problems with the way waste from Marcellus Shale drilling operations is reported in Pennsylvania, MSC President Kathryn Klaber told NGI's Shale Daily, "The MSC receives feedback directly from our member companies on their flow-back water management, which includes reuse and recycling. The current reporting system in an example of the transparency that the industry supports and is working to even increase across our operations. However, no reporting system can be designed to anticipate all possible data requests and this one is no different."

The DEP did not respond to a call for comment by press time.

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