PA Marcellus Drilling Wastewater Going to Ohio

Millions of barrels of fracking fluid—wastewater often referred to as “brine” because of the heavy salts in it—are being imported from Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale drilling operations into Ohio, and it has some Ohioans concerned. Fracking fluid/wastewater/brine is what comes back out of the bore hole after sending water, sand and some chemicals down the hole during drilling.

Many larger drillers now recycle 100 percent of the wastewater for reuse in other drilling. For those who do not recycle it, it must be disposed—either by treating it at special facilities where it is then safe for release back into streams and rivers, or by storing it in underground wells, known as injection wells.

Pennsylvania recently stopped the practice of municipal sewage treatment plants from treating and releasing fracking wastewater into the state’s waterways. So those drillers who do not recycle all of their wastewater have a problem: How to dispose of it? Many of them, it seems, have found a place to do so in Ohio, even though Ohio has dramatically raised rates for out-of-state drillers.

In June 2010, Ohio quadrupled the fees that out-of-state haulers must pay to dump brine into 170 disposal wells.

Ohio officials thought that raising the fees to 20 cents per barrel from 5 cents would help keep the brine in Pennsylvania, where drilling has exploded since the discovery of huge gas deposits deep in Marcellus shale. Ohio wants to keep its injection wells open for Ohio brine, which also might explode in volume if the state’s own shale begins to give up natural gas.

But then, Pennsylvania officials told 27 sewage-treatment plants to stop dumping brine into streams. The state’s geology doesn’t support brine-injection wells.

Ohio’s does.

From January through March, nearly half the brine that went into disposal wells in Ohio came from Pennsylvania and other states, said Tom Tomastik, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ disposal-well program.

That’s 1.18 million barrels of brine, enough to fill 76 Olympic-sized swimming pools.*

*The Columbus Dispatch (Jun 19, 2011) – Ohio taking in flood of Pennsylvania brine for disposal

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