Here’s a summary of recent WRI activities:
1. Brian Rahm interviewed by WSKG/Innovation Trail on Marcellus Shale:
Brian Rahm of Cornell’s Water Research Institute says these sorts of systems are likely to be used in New York if hydrofracking moves here. And the water that can’t be recycled will probably be shipped to disposal plants in Pennsylvania.
“To truck the waste from Broome County down to Williamsport is probably not that big of a deal. I think they’ll probably use that capacity,” says Rahm.
He says that the most important thing isn’t whether or not wastewater can be treated. It’s whether the Department of Environmental Conservation can enforce the rules they’ve spent the last five years creating.
“That to me seems the biggest problem right now is not being quite sure how New York DEC is going to undertake all the things they say they’re going to undertake,” says Rahm.
According to Rahm, there needs to be a lot of drilling before water treatment plant operators, which need permits from the state and the federal government, start building new plants in New York.
2. Homeowner education workshops in Chautauqua County: Workshop on wastewater management for lakeshore communities was conducted in Ashville, NY on March 6. This was the second of the four workshops planned for communities around Chautauqua and Canadarago lakes. See coverage of the event from The Post-Journal pre- and post-event.
3. Our comment on an article that was published last year comparing a small decentralized wastewater treatment system with a large centralized system was accepted and published in the Environmental Research Letters. From the abstract:
In the article ‘Energy and air emission implications of a decentralized wastewater system’ published in Environmental Research Letters (2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 024007), Shehabi et al compared a decentralized and a centralized system on the basis of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, and claimed that economies of scale lower the environmental impacts from a centralized system on a per-volume basis. In this comment, we present literature and data from New York State, USA to argue that the authors’ comparison between a small decentralized system (0.015 MGD) and a large centralized system (66.5 MGD) is unconventional and inappropriate.
4. Estuary Resilience Project website: A partnership effort between NYSWRI, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Hudson River Estuary program of the NYSDEC, this project is a combination of research, outreach and education efforts to address the challenges of flooding and extreme weather. More details will be added to the page over time.
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.
1. Cornell received a draft permit from NYSDEC for the continued operation of the Lake Source Cooling in exchange for a $2.1 million study of phosphorus entering the southern end of Cayuga Lake.
The NYS Water Resources Institute at Cornell will work with local and regional stakeholders in developing sound science and community-based action agendas using the best tools and practices for protecting Cayuga Lake to be included in the updated plan.
Susan Riha, director of the Water Resources Institute, said, “This collaborative effort is something we in the Cayuga Lake watershed have all wanted for a long time. With the support of DEC, Cornell faculty, staff and students have been engaged in research to help implement watershed protection action agendas in the Hudson and, more recently, in the Mohawk River basins.”
2. The proposed Haverstraw desalination plant continues to be on the Rockland County Legislature’s agenda.
The Rockland County Legislature approved two resolutions in regards to United Water’s proposed desalination plant in Haverstraw.
The first resolution supports the request of Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its proceedings from 2006 on Rockland’s water supply. The second resolution requests the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) require an issues conference and adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Haverstraw desalination plant.
3. Meanwhile in neighboring Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA averages 750 water main breaks per year. The city has about 3,100 miles of water mains, so that’s about 221 breaks/leaks per 1000 miles of mains. The same figure for Boston, MA is 192 breaks per 100 miles as per data from MassDEP (2008). A recent break in a 36-inch transmission pipe in Philadelphia released 5-6 million gallons of water. Officials realize that these incidents are due to the aging infrastructure.
“There’s really no consistency from one water-main break to the next,” said Nutter, who visited the site. “Some of it certainly is aging infrastructure, but sometimes they get a hairline crack because of the amount of water and pressure, which could blow a part of it out.”
Natural gas drilling operations in Dimock, Pa., are violating laws to protect water and the public, Pennsylvania regulators have determined.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is holding Cabot Oil & Gas accountable for allowing natural gas from lower formations to contaminate fresh water supplies, according to a “Notice of Violation” sent to Cabot dated Feb. 27.
While tapping gas from the Marcellus Shale formation, the company has violated the state’s Oil and Gas Act and Clean Stream Laws, the notice states. Both of those regulations protect drinking water supplies from natural gas hazards.
Gas from Cabot drilling operations has migrated into an aquifer providing water for local residents, the DEP has determined. More than a dozen wells proving water to homes along and near Carter Road have been affected. Four have been taken offline and others have been vented.
Read the rest of the article at:
The final scoping document for the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program has just been released by the DEC. The pdf files that you can download are on the right hand side of this page. I will post more comments after reading through it.
Susan Riha, WRI Director
A contingent from Cornell attended the PA gas summit organized by Penn State University from Dec 10 – 11. The powerpoint presentations from the summit are now available online. Since the development of the Marcellus is more advanced in PA, my objective for attending the summit was to see what lessons could be drawn from the PA experience for protecting New York’s water resources.
DEP (PA equivalent of NYS DEC) assistant council (Scott Perry) stated that wastewater disposal is now the most pressing water issue for the development of the Marcellus in Pennsylvania, and I think the same will be true in New York/ The SRBC has developed a robust methodology for regulating water withdrawls while protecting other uses and ecosystem services. They are also promoting creative solutions such as water ‘banking’ during high flow periods, re-use of fracing waters, and the use of water resources that are already contaminated (e.g. acid mine drainage). Activities in DRBC deserve further scrutiny, but I believe that they are following the lead of SRBC. A big issue for New York pertains to the portions of the Marcellus play that fall beyond these two basins. At present, the DEC is not equipped to manage water withdrawls with the same competency as the river basin commissions.
PA has adopted a ‘presumption of responsibility’ standard to ensure that drilling companies restore or replace water supplies that suffer an impairment of quality or quantity within six months of any drilling activity. The DEP has also adopted a progressive approach to storm water pollution prevention that requires the same BMP’s and reporting standards as other development activities.
On a promising note, industry representatives now claim that most wells in the Marcellus will be not be hydraulically-fractured multiple times as was the case in the Barnett Shale. Whether or not this is just technological optimism or is grounded in experience is too early to say. With respect to volumes, experience in PA suggests that most of the areas of the Marcellus are ‘dry’ and all the produced water is actually frac water that has interacted with the salts and other constituents of the formation.
Specific points that emerged from the presentations:
- Municipal waste water treatment (MWWT) facilities are not equipped to handle the type and concentration ranges of pollutants in ‘frac’ and produced water. The chemical signature of produced water varies significantly from E to W and N to S in the Marcellus (e.g. high Barium concentrations in eastern portion of play). High TDS concentrations in wastewater can also significantly disrupt biological processes that underlie almost all MWWT processing. PA has now capped treatment of gas drilling wasterwater at 1% of total annual flows to MWWT. Even so, many facilities do not have any excess treatment capacity. By itself, MWWT is not a long-term solution (acts only as a dilution mechanism) and there is limited scope in the near-term to accommodate more in-flows. With pre-treatment (either on-site or at specialized facilities), this would alleviate some concern with respect to metals, NORMs, etc. Not clear what component of the brines would be removed with some of these options.
- Specialized treatment facilities (e.g. Hart Resource Technologies, HRT) appear well-equipped to separate out pollutants such as metals, benzene, and NORMs from the fracing fluid and produced water. Sludges created in this process are immobilized (i.e. resistant to acid precipitation and leaching) and then land filled. However, the existing specialized facilities in Pennsylvania are operating at or near capacity and although new facilities have been proposed, none have been permitted yet by DEP. In the near and mid-term, it is extremely unlikely that facilities in PA with be able to accommodate any wastewaters from New York State.
- Even with advanced processing in specialized facilities, the end products of treatment must be disposed. This is especially problematic with respect to TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). HRT maintains that the salt they produce at their specialized treatment facilities is nearly food grade. But what do you do with it after it’s produced? Demand and prices for salt are extremely low. Moreover, it already appears that water quality is being significantly impaired in the Monongahela River from TDS discharges resulting from Marcellus drilling. Many water bodies are at their assimilative capacity with respect to TDS and cannot accommodate additional loadings (e.g. West Branch of the Susquehanna).
- Due to geology and other factors, scope for disposal with deep injection wells is extremely limited. At present, there are only 7 of these wells in PA and they only accept very small volumes for disposal.
- HRT comments that technologies are really driven by volumes involved, and this play will require a different set of infrastructure than is currently in place.
A key take-home message for me was that although PA is much further along than NYS in developing the Marcellus and an effective regulatory framework, they are still grappling with the issue of cumulative impacts and are already experiencing negative impacts (e.g. Monongahela River) as a consequence.
-Andrew McDonald, WRI Research Coordinator
The period for comments on the draft scoping document for the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on unconventional gas well drilling is closed. Here are comments on the draft scoping document from Cornell faculty (cornell-comments-on-the-draft-scope-of-the-dsgeis-regarding-gas-well-drilling), Tompkins County (tcpd-scoping-comments), and the US Geological Survey (scope-dsgeis-081015-usgs-comments). I will keep you posted as to when the final scoping document will be released.
Susan Riha, WRI Director
Now is the time to submit your comments on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation draft scoping document (http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/47554.html) for a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on unconventional gas well drilling. This is a long scoping document, but the key part is the last few pages. Comments are due by Dec. 15 and can be submitted via email to email@example.com with “Scope Comments” as the Subject.
Why is this important? The scoping document determines what issues and concerns will be addressed in the SGEIS. The SGEIS establishes the type and degree of environmental mitigation that will be required of gas companies in order to be issued a permit to drill for gas using horizontal hydrofracing techniques.
Susan Riha, WRI Director