The Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed a bill last Monday absolving mine operators and landowners from liability for any injury or damage caused by the use of acid mine drainage (AMD) in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations.

SB1346, which passed the Senate 49-0, has now been referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

“The Commonwealth must begin to take an innovative approach to the treatment and use of acid mine water,” the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Richard Kasunic (D-Dunbar), said last Monday. “[SB1346] affords this incentive for private investment, by providing essential liability protections for the development of treatment systems for acid mine water utilized for oil and gas well development.”

Kasunic said AMD is Pennsylvania’s “single greatest source of water pollution, responsible for approximately 2,500 miles of degraded waterways.” He added that the acid and dissolved metals in AMD foul the state’s waterways, rendering them “uninhabitable for fish and other aquatic life and unsuitable for human consumption.

“This measure is aimed at encouraging the use of mine water in drilling rather than the continued heavy use of municipal and fresh water sources,” he said.

Adam Pankake, executive director for the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, told NGI’s Shale Daily that although SB1346 was a good bill, there probably wasn’t enough time for it to be passed in the state House of Representatives. The chamber’s last scheduled session day for 2012 is Nov. 14.

“I think it’s going to have to start over at the beginning, work through committee, the Senate and then go over to the House through the same way,” Pankake said Friday. “For it to go through the entire House, through the Environmental and Appropriations committees and then get voted on the floor, it’s highly unlikely. Unless the House adds days, but I don’t see that happening.”

“It’s a pretty well regarded bill; I haven’t heard any environmental groups being opposed to it. It’s been a pretty concerted effort between the Senate, the gas industry and our Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] coming to some agreement on another way to use this water for another industry in another treatment method. So it seems like maybe this is something next session that can be signed into law. I just don’t think it has enough time to be signed into law this session.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), AMD from thousands of abandoned coal mines has contaminated more than 3,000 miles of streams and associated groundwater in Pennsylvania, and it’s the most extensive water pollution problem for the state. USGS estimates the state loses about $67 million a year on lost revenue from sport fishing in affected streams. The agency also estimates that it would cost between $5 billion and $15 billion to restore watersheds damaged by AMD.

Last year the Senate proposed encouraging operators to use AMD for fracking instead of fresh water as part of the discussions for SB1100, a bill competing with HB1950. The latter was signed into law and became Act 13, the state’s omnibus Marcellus Shale law (see Shale Daily, Oct. 26, 2011; June 15, 2011).