Pennsylvania residents are bearing more than 80 percent of fracking waste

Temporal and spatial trends of conventional and unconventional oil and gas waste management in Pennsylvania, 1991–2017

More than 80 percent of all waste from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas drilling operations stays inside the state, according to a new study that tracked the disposal locations of liquid and solid waste from these operations over 26 years, ehn reports.

Highlights

  • Majority of Pennsylvania oil & gas (O&G) wastewater is disposed of in-state.
  • Final disposal endpoints are often not reported in the PADEP waste inventory.
  • 30% of O&G wastewater generated since 1991 is from conventional development.
  • The majority of wastewater is currently handled by in-field reuse (52% in 2017).
  • Spatial data available for 99% of UOG and 45% of COG wastewater in 2017.

Abstract

The significant development of oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale and other geological formations in Pennsylvania over the last decade has generated large volumes of liquid and solid waste. In this paper we use data reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) to examine temporal and spatial trends in generation and management of liquid and solid waste from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas activities in Pennsylvania between 1991 and 2017. While previous assessments have examined this waste inventory in part, no complete assessment of waste quantity, waste types, waste handling practices, and spatial waste tracking has been undertaken using all currently available years of Pennsylvania oil and gas waste data. In 2017 more than half of oil and gas wastewater by volume was reused at well pads to facilitate more hydrocarbon production while the majority of solid waste by volume was disposed of at in-state landfills. The spatial resolution of wastewater generation and handling from unconventional operations has improved substantially with recent regulations and reporting requirements; however, conventional oil and gas development was not held to more stringent reporting requirements and thus spatially-explicit data on wastewater generation and handling from conventional oil and gas development is still lacking. In addition, a third of the liquid waste across all years in the inventory lack a reported final destination. Spatially explicit cradle-to-grave reporting of waste generation and waste handling from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas development is critical to assess potential environmental and human health hazards and risks associated with oil and gas development.

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