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Pennsylvania Operators Stop Delivering Wastewater

Marcellus Shale gas operators in Pennsylvania are poised to comply with last month's request by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to stop delivering wastewater to 15 municipal wastewater treatment facilities by Thursday (May 19).

Meanwhile in neighboring Ohio, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) announced Monday that municipal wastewater treatment facilities in that state are prohibited from accepting brine from oil and gas drilling.

Acting Pennsylvania DEP Secretary Mike Krancer last month asked drilling operators to stop delivering wastewater to the facilities, citing the state's newly revised total dissolved solids (TDS) regulations (see Shale Daily, April 20). The move was backed by Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday that the agency believes it has achieved 100% compliance with the request.

"We received a commitment from the Marcellus Shale Coalition [MSC] within 28 hours of [Krancer's] call," Gresh said. "We were told drillers would stop delivering by May 19 and that they would indeed comply. And we will work to verify that on both the supply side and the demand side."

Gresh declined to elaborate on how the DEP would verify wastewater deliveries had ceased but said the agency would begin those measures on Thursday.

The DEP revised its TDS regulations in 2010, requiring publicly owned and centralized waste treatment facilities to treat new or increased discharges of TDS to more stringent standards. The process of removing TDS from wastewater also removes nontoxic bromides, but these become pollutants called trihalomethanes (THM) when combined with chlorine, which is used at water treatment facilities to disinfect drinking water.

According to the DEP, elevated levels of bromide have been found in water samples taken from rivers in western Pennsylvania earlier this year.

Nathan Calvert, a spokesman for Chevron Corp., told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday that the company has ceased using the treatment facilities before the deadline.

"We have accomplished this through a combination of expanded water reuse in our operations and utilizing underground water injection," Calvert said. "We are aggressively pursuing a water management plan to reuse 100% of the flowback and produced water for which Chevron is responsible by the end of 2011."

Chevron's Atlas Resources LLC is one of six companies that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked to disclose its plans for recycling or disposing of drilling water. Chevron has until Wednesday (May 25) to comply. The same is true for Talisman Energy USA, Range Resources-Appalachia LLC, Cabot Gas and Oil Corp., SWEPI LP and Chesapeake Energy Corp.

The EPA said the six companies comprise more than 50% of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The federal agency also urged the DEP to make its request "legally enforceable."

Louis D'Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA), told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday that operators have only two options: recycle or haul wastewater to another state.

"Right now there are operators hauling water over to Ohio," D'Amico said. "How long that's going to be able to continue, we don't know. They have limited capacity over there, so at some point as the shale play starts to develop in Ohio that's not going to be an option."

D'Amico predicts that at some point wastewater facilities will need to either be built or configured in Pennsylvania to handle the drilling wastewater, and that the DEP will ultimately permit a discharge pipe requirement of 500 mg/l.

"The question is what we do in the meantime?" D'Amico said. "We're very concerned. I'm afraid that operators who don't have ongoing operations are just going to end up shutting down completely until there are options out there."

D'Amico said PIOGA didn't have any figures for how much wastewater was being generated at wells in the state. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Oil & Gas Management estimates that 60,000 to 80,000 gas wells are currently in production, and a Pennsylvania State hydrogeologist estimated in March that a well uses 3.7 million gallons of fluid on average, with 89% of the fluids being recycled (see Shale Daily, March 23).

On Monday OEPA Director Scott Nally sent a letter to three Ohio cities -- Warren, Steubenville and East Liverpool -- that were at various stages of allowing their municipal wastewater treatment facilities to accept brine from oil and gas drilling. Nally explained state law would prohibit the cities from accepting the brine.

"The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the OEPA have been working for several months to coordinate their regulatory activities," OEPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday. "Both agencies came to the conclusion that the ODNR has the sole and exclusive authority for brine disposal in Ohio, and the existing statute prohibits disposal into Ohio's water resources, either directly or through municipal wastewater treatment plants."

Tom Angelo, the director of Warren's wastewater treatment plant, told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday that the city began working with the OEPA in 2009 over brine disposal, then partnered with Patriot Energy Partners and went through an eight-week pilot study of the practice. In January the city received an OEPA permit to accept low salinity brine (under 50,000 mg/l), which Angelo said was mostly pit water and initial flowback.

In his letter, Nally said when Warren's permit expires in July 2012 it will not be renewed.

"It's interesting that they didn't shut down or disallow the water to continue to come here for the duration of the permit," Angelo said. "If [the OEPA and the ODNR] saw this as an environmental problem, they would have shut us down immediately. But all of the data we have says it is not. We are doing this safely."

Angelo said he thinks the two state agencies enacted the change because the ODNR will begin assessing a 20-cent/bbl fee in June for all brine water that goes toward deepwater injection.

"We didn't do this overnight," Angelo said, adding that the city planned to fight the change and lobby state legislators to amend the law. "We have been back and forth with them for two years. All of a sudden they figure out there's a statute? Is it really about that or are they viewing this as a competitor for a revenue stream?"

Angelo said Warren could have made between $100,000 and $500,000 a year from brine disposal, depending on the volume received and any surcharges.

"The money has never really been our main motivation," Angelo said, adding that Patriot hired about 45 people. "It's about getting the jobs. We're trying to create an opportunity from a growing industry and to get jobs back into Ohio that are sustainable and can't be moved to another country."

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