Pennsylvania DEP Allows Shale Companies To Bury Wastewater Lines
John Swart has no interest in having a bulky water line draped across his Washington County, Pennsylvania, pasture, and neither do his cows.
“They are very big lines,” the West Finley farmer and township supervisor said. “Animals crossing them—they could break a leg.”
So when a shale gas operator wanted to run a fluids pipeline through Swart’s property to get to a planned gas well, he agreed on the condition that the line be buried.
This year, that option seemed in doubt, until a single word—“and”—was added to a suite of proposed drilling regulatory changes that will allow shale gas companies to continue to bury wastewater pipelines that ferry fluids between a network of well sites and storage facilities.
The economical edit by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) means that only temporary wastewater lines installed to serve one well site at a time will have to run above ground, where they can easily be monitored for leaks.
Only a few Marcellus Shale operators have installed buried wastewater lines, DEP officials said.
Buried pipelines that carry fresh water to well sites are far more common, and the proposed regulations have always allowed those to run below ground.
Companies use the buried pipelines in areas of concentrated well development, where the lines will link many wells over long periods of time during fluid-intense stages such as drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The lines are also installed where overland pipes or tanker traffic would be particularly disruptive. Or the pipelines are built to meet the standards of natural gas gathering lines so the same infrastructure can be used to carry gas away from the sites once wells are completed.
A push for the “and” started months ago, when the Marcellus Shale Coalition wrote in public comments that the way DEP defined “well development pipelines” in its revised oil and gas rules would prohibit the use of centralized semipermanent underground pipelines.
And that, the coalition said, would result in “hundreds of thousands of additional truck road hours per year to transport fluids.”
DEP made the edit only recently after Consol Energy and its joint venture partner Noble Energy, which have installed below-ground pipeline networks to transport fluids in their Marcellus Shale operating areas, met with regulators and helped community partners—including landowners, township officials, the Greene County Commissioner,s and the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce—arrange a letter-writing campaign.
Mr. Swart sent in one of those letters.
“Reduced truck traffic, less risk of weather-related or accidental damage, less risk of vandalism, efficiencies that encourage water reuse and limit the need for disposal—all are benefits to maintaining this best practice,” Consol spokesman Brian Aiello said.
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