Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Oil and Gas Waste Rules Put Traditional Drillers in a Tight Spot

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Oil and Gas Waste Rules Put Traditional Drillers in a Tight Spot

Article excerpt

A new federal rule barring waste fluids out of shale oil and gas operations from being sent to public sewage plants for treatment and disposal might have inadvertently swept up Pennsylvania's traditional oil and gas industry's wastewater as well.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's rule was meant to make sure a discarded practice stays dead. Marcellus Shale companies operating in Pennsylvania had voluntarily agreed in 2011 to stop using public treatment plants to manage their wastes. Shale oil and gas operators in other regions of the country never embraced municipal sewage plants as a disposal option.

Wastewater from unconventional oil and gas extraction often contains high concentrations of salt, as well as chemicals, metals and radioactive materials, the EPA said in its justification for the rule. Public sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove those pollutants, which can flow through to streams untreated or interfere with the plant's normal function.

The new rule, published on June 28, was not meant to apply to conventional oil and gas operations, which generally use vertical wells to tap shallower formations and produce smaller amounts of waste fluids than unconventional wells. The EPA plainly said that its final rule "does not include pretreatment standards for wastewater pollutants associated with conventional oil and gas extraction facilities," although the agency reserved the right to develop such standards.

But guidance documents published with the final rule describe in more detail what the EPA considers a shale or tight oil and gas formation - those layers of rock that are covered by the rule. The list includes three geological designations in the Appalachian basin - the Devonian, the Tuscarora and the Clinton-Medina formations - that have been tapped by conventional drillers for decades.

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, a Wexford-based trade group, flagged the issue in July and urged companies to push the EPA to clarify its intentions. …

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