Friday, October 21, 2011
On Thursday, October 20, the EPA announced that it will "develop standards for wastewater discharges produced by natural gas extraction from underground coalbed and shale formations." The hydraulic fracturing process (also sometimes called "fracing," "fracking," or "hydrofracking") for coalbed and shale wells can generate millions of gallons of wastewater, both in the form of the fracturing water that flows back up out of the well ("flowback") and produced water that flows naturally from the drilled formation. The EPA's announcement follows its earlier efforts in Pennsylvania to determine where operators of hydraulically fractured wells in the Marcellus Shale were disposing of wastewater--particularly after Pennsylvania discouraged disposal through wastewater treatment plants. The EPA is concerned that because shale and coalbed gas operators may not discharge waste directly into streams, the wastewater treatment plants that sometimes receive the waste can't adequately handle it. The agency hopes to issue a proposed rule for wastewater from coalbed methane wells by 2013 and wastewater from shale wells by 2014. For a discussion of fracturing-based wastewater issues in Pennsylvania, see this earlier post.