Pennsylvania law okays treated coal-mining water for frac jobs

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bill intended to encourage more oil and gas companies to use treated coal-mine wastewater for hydraulic fracturing. The law was scheduled to become effective in December.

Consol Energy operates coal mines in southwestern Pennsylvania as well as developing and producing natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales. Consol Energy already had used wastewaste from its coal mines for fracturing, a company spokesman said.

The new law is intended to encourage other gas operators to use treated mine water instead of fresh water. The use of mine water for fracing was among recommendations made by former Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. In 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a white paper to promote the practice.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection officials supported the legislation. Previously, oil and gas companies were reluctant to use treated mine water to complete wells because of liability concerns with the state’s existing Clean Stream Law.

Act 47 clarified the liability issues, said Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Greene County), who was among the bill’s 15 cosponsors. She noted the legislation did not address drainage problems from abandoned coal mines, which have tainted some Pennsylvania streams orange.

Groups sought veto

More than 20 groups wrote a joint letter to Wolf urging him to veto the measure. Tracy Carluccio, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the bill could trigger a demand for drawing treated coal-mining water from watersheds.

Carluccio says Delaware Riverkeeper Network attorneys believe the new law could be interpreted to mean fracing crews also use untreated mine water. But Sen. Bartolotta contradicted that, saying it was incorrect.

Bartolotta said a frac job can use 4.4 million gal of water for a single well, and her intention was that the new law would encourage fracing crews to use less water from clean rivers and streams. “The use of treated mine water by natural gas companies is an innovative approach that will help preserve millions of gallons of fresh water,” Bartolotta said.

Contact Paula Dittrick at

*Paula Dittrick is editor of OGJ’s Unconventional Oil & Gas Report.

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