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Marcellus Coalition Defends Pennsylvania Water Handling

February 8, 2010
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As natural gas production in the prolific Marcellus Shale continues to ramp up in Pennsylvania, proponents say drilling and well stimulation practices are safe and that steps are being taken to ensure the protection of the Commonwealth's water resources for all Pennsylvanians.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which reads as a who's who of producers in the area, on Thursday issued information that it hopes will set the facts straight on water use and flowback water management in the development of natural gas from the Marcellus formation.

"Pennsylvanians deserve to get the facts about water management for Marcellus Shale development," the coalition said. "We need to put an end to the suppositions that could threaten our state's ability to create jobs and investment here at home. Regulations governing the use and management of water needed to drill a Marcellus Shale well in Pennsylvania are among the most stringent in the nation, and ensure the protection of the Commonwealth's water resources. Water withdrawals from streams and rivers must be approved, including the withdrawal location and amount of water required for each well, as well as detailed storage and treatment plans."

The coalition offensive comes just days after the Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was urged to hire 68 additional personnel to ensure that drilling companies obey state laws and protect water supplies as they ply the Keystone State's portion of the Marcellus Shale play (see NGI, Feb. 1). Gov. Edward Rendell directed the staff increase. DEP also is to strengthen oil and gas regulations to improve well construction standards, Rendell's office said.

The coalition welcomed the move. "The Marcellus Shale Coalition has consistently supported the hiring of additional DEP staff to monitor natural gas wells in the commonwealth, as reflected in its proactive endorsement of permit fee increases in 2009 to add and train new inspectors," said President Kathryn Klaber.

"The industry currently treats or recycles all of its flowback water, the coalition said Thursday. "Recycling accounts for approximately 60% of the water used to complete Marcellus Shale wells, with greater percentages predicted for the future. There are more than a dozen approved water treatment facilities available to treat flowback water, with plans for additional capacity in the future."

The coalition said claims about elevated levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) in the Monongahela River from natural gas development have been "refuted by studies that attribute a minimal amount of the total TDS levels to Marcellus Shale drilling activity. In fact, historical monitoring shows the variability of TDS levels in the Monongahela and other rivers to be a cyclical phenomenon over the past 30 years."

Marcellus production within the state and in New York does have its opponents. Last fall, 45 residents of a northeastern Pennsylvania town in the heart of the Marcellus Shale sued Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and a service operator, claiming that their water wells became contaminated when the producer used hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) to stimulate natural gas wells (see NGI, Nov. 23, 2009). The plaintiffs claim the hydrofracing "fluid and/or drilling mud includes hazardous chemicals that are carcinogenic and toxic."

Late last year, New York state economic development and business interests -- led by the Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA) of New York -- reminded Gov. David A. Paterson in a letter that his draft energy plan includes expansion of natural gas exploration (see NGI, Jan. 4). Producers and others are pushing for adoption of new rules that would allow development of the Marcellus Shale gas play, while environmentalists are lobbying for stricter standards.

The coalition said producers are using best management practices. "Companies are working with international water quality experts and are funding research and development projects to develop mobile and permanent treatment technologies such as evaporation and crystallization. These efforts will enhance the [Pennsylvania] Commonwealth's overall water treatment capabilities, while bringing more commerce into Pennsylvania. We're also researching and developing deep underground injection well technology, which is a proven, safe disposal method in other regions of the country."

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