In Pennsylvania, recycling water from wells in the Marcellus Shale has been transformed from a trend to an essential skill. The tipping point came in mid-April in a notice from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) telling 15 public water treatment plants to stop handling waste water from wells in the Marcellus.

The order to the only public facilities treating water from fracturing was voluntary, but the intent was clear. In the letter, Michael Krancer, the DEP secretary said: “Now is the time to take action to end this practice.”

If there was any doubt, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) followed up with a letter in May telling the state agency to make that a mandatory order. The federal agency said it would contact large oil and gas companies and the water treatment facilities to ensure they were no longer processing water that had flowed back after fracturing, and then disposing it in the state’s waterways.

At that time two-thirds of the water from fracturing was recycled in Pennsylvania, where water use for shale gas companies has become a battleground with environmentalists, politicians, and the people who live on the land holding enormous natural gas reserves. The industry was already moving toward recycling, said Pete Miller, water resources manager of the Marcellus Shale division at Range Resources, which reuses nearly all the water from its wells there. “When the standard came out, it was another push in that direction.”

The state’s letter sparked a rush by those who faced higher disposal costs because they could no longer have their waste water treated in state. “People are calling and telling me, ‘I’ve got to figure this out,’” said Dave Grottenthaler, general manager of Kroff Oil Services, a Pittsburgh water treatment specialist that got into fracturing water reuse early on. “I’ve been telling them for a while, you can reuse all your flowback and you will be safe.”

Range Resources is evidence to how fast this transition can happen. It first used a mixture of fracturing flowback water and fresh water in August 2009. In 2010, it said it reused 96% of its produced water in Pennsylvania.

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