Extraction of natural gas from tight shale formations has been made possible by recent technological advances, including hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. Global shale gas development is seen as a potential energy and geopolitical "game-changer." However, widespread concern exists with respect to possible environmental consequences of this development, particularly impacts on water resources. In the United States, where the most shale gas extraction has occurred, the Marcellus Shale is now the largest natural gas producing play. To date, over 6,000,000 m3 of wastewater has been generated in the process of extracting natural gas from this shale in the state of Pennsylvania (PA) alone. Here we examine wastewater management practices and trends for this shale play through analysis of industry-reported, publicly available data collected from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Oil and Gas Reporting Website. We also analyze the tracking and transport of shale gas liquid waste streams originating in PA using a combination of web-based and GIS approaches. From 2008 to 2011 wastewater reuse increased, POTW use decreased, and data tracking became more complete, while the average distance traveled by wastewater decreased by over 30%. Likely factors influencing these trends include state regulations and policies, along with low natural gas prices. Regional differences in wastewater management are influenced by industrial treatment capacity, as well as proximity to injection disposal capacity. Using lessons from the Marcellus Shale, we suggest that nations, states, and regulatory agencies facing new unconventional shale development recognize that pace and scale of well drilling leads to commensurate wastewater management challenges. We also suggest they implement wastewater reporting and tracking systems, articulate a policy for adapting management to evolving data and development patterns, assess local and regional wastewater treatment infrastructure in terms of capacity and capability, promote well-regulated on-site treatment technologies, and review and update wastewater management regulations and policies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Engineering
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law