Reliable One is preparing to implement its highly effective methods and processes to dramatically reduce freshwater use by the oil and gas industry in the Marcellus Shale region, while concurrently meeting the tremendous demand for water by Marcellus oil and gas operator. Reliable One is planning to provide wastewater hauling and disposal services as it develops sites to treat water generated in fracking, flowback, and production.
The discovery of the Marcellus Shale Formation in 2005 created an economic boom in the Appalachian region. The use of directional drilling and fracking has allowed operators access to enormous natural gas reserves. The largest natural gas well in the contiguous United States was recently drilled in Washington County by EQT, and over 17,000 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania alone. Total water production for all Pennsylvania well pads is estimated to be 1,407,000 barrels per month. It would take 14,070 truckloads per month to remove the resulting wastewater. Additionally, there are another 2,182 Utica wells in Ohio and 3,090 Marcellus wells in West Virginia – all of which also require water for operation and produce large volumes of wastewater.
The success of the Marcellus region in supplYing America’s increasing demand for natural gas has not been without controversy. The fracking process uses up to 5 million gallons of water per well. Approximately 60% of the injected water is returned to the surface as wastewater within the first 6 months. This wastewater contains salt and dissolved solids. The use, movement, and disposal of water amount to 30% of the cost of a new well and 93% of operations. According to the Pennsylvania DEP, operators reported that they produced 41,428,239 barrels of wastewater in 2016. A recent Duke University study showed that the amount of water used per well for hydraulic fracturing surged by up to 770% between 2011 and 2016 in all major U.S. shale gas and oil production regions, including the Marcellus.
Roughly 5 years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania DEP found that wastewater that was diluted and dumped in the local rivers were causing barium and bromides to accumulate in the bottom of the rivers. As a result, all oil and gas wastewater is now prohibited from being disposed of in Pennsylvania waterways.
In the past, drillers also enjoyed a sort of “safety net” regarding their produced water. They were able to dig large pits, called frac pits or frac ponds, where they would store their produced or frac water. Energy companies would line the pits with a plastic tarp, believing that the tarps would insulate any seepage of the contaminated water from leaking into the groundwater. Despite this belief, on many occasions, leaking and seepage has resulted in contaminants reaching the aquifers and groundwater. Frac pits or ponds are also known disseminators of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the surrounding atmosphere. As a result, the EPA has issued a mandate that no produced or frac water may be placed into Pennsylvania frac pits or ponds as of January 2018.
Traditionally, the most common method of produced water disposal had been the deep injection of wastewater into disposal wells (also called “injection wells”). However, a number of factors, including the increasing occurrence of earthquakes in regions where large volumes of produced water are injected underground, has caused many regions to ban new disposal wells, or at minimum, prohibit any additional injections.
The geological strata in Pennsylvania is such that the permeability and porosity of the Marcellus formations allow the produced and frac water injected under pressure into disposal wells to seep into the aquifers and groundwater. In fact, in one county alone – Demmick, Pennsylvania – there have been 243 separate incidents of groundwater contamination. Due to the threat of increased man-made seismic activity, as well as the risk to increasingly scarce underground freshwater resources, it is highly unlikely that any politician in Pennsylvania would stand a chance for re-election if they were to endorse additional disposal wells for the state.
Given the lack of suitable disposal infrastructure for the enormous quantities of produced wastewater – there are only 8 injection wells in Pennsylvania (two of which are currently shut down by litigation and another two slated for imminent shut down by the EPA) – the majority of the state’s wastewater is trucked to disposal wells in Ohio or West Virginia. The second largest concentration of active wells in Pennsylvania is in the southwest part of the state, close to both the Ohio and West Virginia borders.
There are also approximately $8.5 billion worth of gas fired power plants planned for construction in Ohio. Currently, the state produces only 13% of its electricity from natural gas but the state is planning to increase that figure to 27%. These gas fired power plants will require huge continual flows of natural gas for the next decades, assuring large demand for natural gas wells in or around Ohio to supply this need. The story in Ohio mirrors that of states around the country, with many shifting from oil and diesel to much cleaner natural gas.
Marcellus Shale wells are over 90% natural gas wells, and the demand for natural gas is clearly on the rise. From an increase in natural gas fired electricity generation plants or major Fortune 500 companies and municipal trucking fleets switching from gasoline or diesel engines to natural gas, it is apparent that natural gas is poised to fill a larger part of the future energy mix, and much of that demand will be filled by Marcellus-supplied gas.
With the impending export of trillions of cubic feet of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), including under the U.S. Gas Infrastructure Exports Initiative, the entire Marcellus region is strategically positioned and geographically located ideally to capitalize upon this emerging market.
Click here to read white paper presented the recent International Water Conference (IWC) details urgent and widespread need for wastewater solutions in the Marcellus region