The Economics of Shale Cuttings and Landfills

Some of what comes out of the holes drilled for natural gas wells is rock and dirt. More precisely, a substance called “shale cuttings.” According to the MDN glossary, shale cuttings are: “Small pieces of rock that break away during the drilling process. Cuttings are screened out of the liquid mud by using shale shakers, or screens that allow the liquid to pass through but filter out the bits of rock.”

Since 2010 the municipal landfill in Bradford County, PA has accepted shale cuttings, making a tidy sum from it ($130,000). But the cuttings, and the revenue, stopped at the end of 2011. Why? Bradford County charges more than other landfills, like the municipal landfill across the border in Chemung County, NY. Not surprisingly, drillers haul their cuttings to cheaper landfills instead.

Since September 2010, Bradford County has received more than $130,000 in landfilling fees that are charged locally for accepting Marcellus Shale drill cutting waste, and has used the money to pay for improvements in county parks, to provide grants to local fire companies and ambulance services, and to pay for local environmental education projects.

Now the funding has dried up.

The Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority’s landfill in West Burlington Township, where the landfilling fees were generated, has not received any drill cutting waste since December 2011, said Scot Sample, executive director of the Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority. Drilling companies are instead taking the waste to other landfills where the landfilling fees are cheaper, such as one in Chemung, N.Y., he said.

There is also less drill cutting waste being produced locally, due to the large cutback in drilling activity that occurred this year, he said.

Because drill cutting waste is no longer being brought to the landfill, NTSWA has ceased distributing landfilling fees to Bradford, Tioga and Sullivan counties, Sample said.*

*Towanda (PA) The Daily Review (Jun 8, 2012) – Marcellus Shale landfilling fees dry up for local counties