WRI recently released a working paper* on the management of wastewater arising out of the Marcellus Shale gas development. The paper, led by Dr. Brian Rahm (WRI), is available for download at the SSRN.
Extraction of natural gas from tight shale formations, which occur globally, has been made possible by recent technological advances, including hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. Shale gas development is being lauded as a potential energy and geopolitical “game-changer.” However, widespread concern exists with respect to possible environmental consequences of this development, particularly impacts on water resources. In the United States, where most shale gas extraction has occurred thus far, the Marcellus Shale is now the largest natural gas producing play. To date, over 6,000,000 m3 of wastewater has been generated in the process of extracting natural gas from this shale in the state on Pennsylvania (PA) alone. Here we examine wastewater management practices and trends for this shale play, as well as the tracking and transport of shale gas liquid waste streams in PA. Between 2008 and 2011, state regulations and policies, along with low natural gas prices, have led to increased wastewater reuse, decreased POTW use, and more complete data tracking, while the average distance traveled by wastewater has decreased by over 30%. Regional differences in wastewater management are influenced by industrial treatment capacity, as well as proximity to injection disposal capacity. Using lessons from the Marcellus Shale, we suggest that nations, states, and regulatory agencies facing new unconventional shale development implement wastewater reporting and tracking systems, assess local and regional wastewater treatment infrastructure in terms of capacity and capability, promote well-regulated on-site treatment technologies, and review and update wastewater management regulations and policies.
* The study is currently under peer-review.