Pennsylvania’s waste is becoming Ohio’s million-dollar treasureWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Gas drillers tapping into the Marcellus Shale are shipping more fracking waste to neighboring Ohio for disposal deep underground, putting it on pace to bank nearly $1 million in fees this year from out-of-state drillers, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported July 5.
The amount of wastewater Ohio accepted from out-of-state drillers jumped 25 percent in the first quarter, compared with the last quarter of 2010, likely in part because Pennsylvania officials this year increased pressure on drillers to keep fracking waste out of surface water, said Tom Tomastik of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Drillers “have to do something with this waste,” said Pam Melott, manager at WTC Gas Field Services, one of several haulers newly registered to ship to Ohio. “There’s a lot of prospective customers. Our customers have called me and they want to know, `What are we going to do?’ … So, yes, they’re very interested in this.”
Pennsylvania has six active deep-injection disposal wells, all in the western half of the state, but state Department of Environmental Protection records show drillers rely completely on Ohio to take their waste. Companies sent nearly 14.8 million gallons for underground disposal in the last six months of 2010, the most recent statistics available.
Drillers are contemplating developing disposal wells in both states, government regulators and industry officials said. More haulers are registering to carry shipments to Ohio, and one developer is considering a rail line covering several hundred miles, Tomastik said.
To free gas from the rock formation more than a mile underground, drillers use more than 4 million gallons of water per well. Laced with chemicals and shot at high pressure, the fluid breaks through the earth, but more than a fifth of it returns to the surface with chemicals, solids and metals freed from underground. That water must be treated either for reuse or disposal.
The Pennsylvania DEP in August set stricter standards for the amount of solids wastewater plants can take in. This spring, the agency asked drillers to stop taking Marcellus water, sparking the search for options.
Every oil and gas well produces brine, and that salty water has to go somewhere, said Patrick Creighton, spokesman for the Cecil-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents drillers.
As regulations tightened and pressure mounted, more Marcellus shale drillers moved toward recycling. Several of the region’s most active drillers said they recycle 90 percent to 100 percent of the water they use, sending what can’t be recycled to Ohio or to a specialized treatment plant in Williamsport.
Some of the wastewater may take years to return to the surface. It contains such high concentrations of salt that often it can’t be recycled, said Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Texas-based Range Resources, which has offices in Cecil.
Underground injection wells long have been the primary disposal spots in states including Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas — but not in Pennsylvania, experts and industry officials said.
To bore an affordable, effective disposal well requires a permeable layer of earth that will absorb the waste and an impermeable layer above to trap it, all about 4,000 to 5,000 feet underground, said Badie Morsi, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Petroleum Engineering Program. Pennsylvania has that type of rock, but companies are either tapping it for gas or using it for underground gas storage, experts and industry officials said.
Ohio, in contrast, has plenty of unused, permeable, relatively shallow sandstone, Morsi said.
Since the Pennsylvania DEP’s request to keep drilling waste out of rivers, inquiries nearly tripled for disposal wells in Pennsylvania, said David Sternberg, a spokesman at the EPA, which oversees the state’s disposal wells. Yet, no developers have applied, he said.
Those developers likely would have to drill 12,000 to 15,000 feet to find acceptable disposal space, Morsi said. That could cost three times as much as boring a well in Ohio, he said.