The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has finalized the process it will use for encouraging and reviewing proposals to use mine-influenced water, such as acid mine drainage, in oil and gas extraction operations from shale formations.

Enclosed in the final white paper available on the DEP website, the agency outlines the process to submit proposals and how agency staff will review the proposals to use mine-influenced water in well stimulation operations. It also identifies possible storage options for the water and describes potential solutions to long-term liability issues. Proposals to use mine-influenced water must include sampling and characterization of the water, as well as details about how the water will be transported, stored and used.

“Abandoned mines present Pennsylvania with one of its biggest environmental challenges,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “This initiative, which combines remediating abandoned mine water with responsible extraction of our natural gas resources, is a win for our environment and our economy.”

According to DEP data, more than 300 million gallons of water is discharged from mines into Pennsylvania’s waterways every day, impairing more than 5,500 miles of rivers and streams in the state. In 2011, the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission included among its recommendations encouraging the use of non-freshwater sources in drilling operations.

Because the method of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) shale formations for oil and gas extraction is a water-intensive process, competition among drillers has begun for access to water as regulators weigh the environmental repercussions. Researchers are now looking for new ways to reuse and recycle wastewater for the good of the environment, as well as looking ahead to the possibility of more restrictions at the state or federal level that may be imposed on underground injection wells, according to Accenture (see Shale Daily, Jan. 2).

The consulting firm’s researchers said in a report issued earlier in December that water access is likely to become “more of a constraint” for drilling operators, especially in arid areas and regions with seasonal water flow variations. “In the United States, regulators have started to impose seasonal limits on volumes of water withdrawals via permitting restrictions in Pennsylvania,” wrote the authors in Water and Shale Gas Development: Leveraging the U.S. Experience in New Shale Developments. “In drier regions, the competition for access to freshwater resources in particular areas will make water reuse more attractive. Logistics practices and wider water reuse will be key in addressing these concerns.”

In the Pennsylvania DEP white paper, the agency has also developed lists of major mine discharges in the state that it is encouraging operators to consider first, but the agency will review proposals for using water from any mine discharge in the state. Operators must follow all applicable environmental laws and regulations when treating, using, storing and moving the water.

DEP is also encouraging interested parties to work with nonprofit organizations and watershed associations that operate mine water treatment plants and to consider creating or supplementing existing trust funds for long-term treatment of mine-influenced water.