PA Bill Makes Using Acid Mine Water More Likely

One of the more intriguing developments over the past year or so is that drillers in Pennsylvania have considered using acid mine drainage as a source of water for hydraulic fracturing. Water that flows from abandoned coal mines creates acidic water, some 300 million gallons of it per day, destroying plants and fish in some 5,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s waterways. If drillers were to use it, it would address two issues: cleaning up acid mine drainage, and reducing the need for fresh water needed for fracking. Everyone wins, right? Life is never that easy.

The big sticking point that prevents drillers from using acid mine drainage water is one of liability. If they start to use it, will they be “buying” the problem of acid mine drainage water disposal forever? Many drillers are concerned the answer is “yes,” and so they have avoided using it, even though agencies like the Susquehanna River Basin Commission are insisting they use it (see this MDN story).

The Pennsylvania state legislature has introduced a bill that will limit drillers’ liability if they use acid mine drainage water. Last week the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted to approve the new bill.

The vote…comes as state environmental officials are developing polices to offer Marcellus Shale drillers incentives to tap hundreds of millions of gallons of acid mine drainage.

The goal of these policies is to couple the natural gas industry’s need for massive amounts of water in hydrofracking operations and the long-standing problem of cleaning up 5,000 miles of waterway in Pennsylvania impaired by acid mine drainage.

Using mine water will have the added benefit of conserving freshwater sources that are currently being tapped for drilling operations, said Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-32, Dunbar, sponsor of the bill that now goes to the Senate floor.

The measure provides that operators acquiring mine water would not be held liable for costs, injuries or damages from using mine drainage, mine pool water or treated mine water in hydrofracking.

"The cost of abating, and the liability associated with the perpetual treatment of these mine pools can often run into the millions of dollars," Mr. Kasunic said. "Without limiting these potential costs, it is highly unlikely the industry will consider using this alternative water source."*

*The Scranton Times Tribune (May 30, 2012) – Senate panel backs mine water use in fracking