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Fracking wastewater radioactivity reduced with acid mine drainage, finds study

According to a new study conducted by Duke University, acid mine drainage could help reduce radioactivity in wastewater generated from hydraulic fracturing.

Acid mine drainage flows out of abandoned coal mines into many streams in the Appalachian Basin. It can be highly toxic to animals, plants and humans, and affects the quality of hundreds of waterways in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Because much of the current Marcellus shale gas development is taking place in regions where large amounts of historic coal mining occurred, some experts have suggested that acid mine drainage could be used to frack shale gas wells in place of freshwater.

"Fracking wastewater and acid mine drainage each pose well-documented environmental and public health risks. But in laboratory tests, we found that by blending them in the right proportions, we can bind some of the fracking contaminants into solids that can be removed before the water is discharged back into streams and rivers," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The research also found that blending fracking wastewater with acid mine drainage could also help reduce the depletion of local freshwater resources by giving drillers a source of usable recycled water for the hydraulic fracturing process.

"Scarcity of freshwater in dry regions or during periods of drought can severely limit shale gas development in many areas of the United States and in other regions of the world where fracking is about to begin," Vengosh said. "Using acid mine drainage or other sources of recycled or marginal water may help solve this problem and prevent freshwater depletion."


Nation's second largest natural gas producer fined for Clean Water Act violations

Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy -- the nation's second largest natural gas producer -- will spend an estimated $6.5 million to restore 27 sites damaged by unauthorized discharges of fill material into streams and wetlands.

Further, the company will also pay a civil penalty of $3.2 million -- one of the largest ever levied by the federal government -- for violations of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which prohibits the filling or damming of wetlands, rivers, streams, and other waters of the United States without a federal permit.

The penalty was announced by the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday, Dec. 19, and purports to implement a comprehensive plan to comply with federal and state water protection laws at the company's natural gas extraction sites in West Virginia, many of which involve hydraulic fracturing operations.

The federal government and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) allege that the company impounded streams and discharged sand, dirt, rocks, and other fill material into streams and wetlands without a federal permit in order to construct well pads, impoundments, road crossings, and other facilities related to natural gas extraction.

The alleged violations being resolved by the settlement occurred at 27 sites located in the West Virginia Counties of Boone, Kanawha, Lewis, Marshall, Mingo, Preston, Upshur, and Wetzel, including 16 sites involving hydraulic fracturing operations. The government alleges that the violations impacted approximately 12,000 linear feet of stream, or approximately 2.2 miles, and more than three acres of wetlands.


Water quality regs at U.S. shale oil, gas sites outlined at online database

Water quality regulations for a number of states experiencing shale oil and gas development can now be efficiently outlined thanks to a new online searchable, comparative law database.

The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database project is led by the University of Colorado Boulder's Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices (BMP) Project in partnership with Temple University's Public Health Law Research program and its LawAtlas.org website. Further, the newly-launched dataset was created as a comparative tool for examining water quality laws and regulations related to oil and gas activities in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The database allows policymakers, local governments, industry officials, and citizens to study the scope of water quality law in their states or to make comparisons with other states. An interactive map allows for easy navigation across different jurisdictions, and downloadable PDFs are available that document each state's water quality regulations.

"Across the nation, local and state government jurisdictions are experiencing new or increased oil and gas development," said Matt Samelson, dataset creator, attorney and consultant for the CU-Boulder Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project. "When development occurs in these jurisdictions, there is tremendous value in examining regulatory regimes already in effect in order to guide conversations about best regulatory practices."

The Oil & Gas – Water Quality database has been divided into five stages of oil and gas activities: permitting, design and construction; well drilling; well completion; production and operation; and reclamation. Likewise, web users can select multiple queries and search by statute categories or by state. The dataset contains nearly 100 distinct questions and corresponding regulations addressing oft-cited oil and gas development issues, such as public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid; baseline water source testing; disposal of water in hydraulically fractured wells; and spill and accident reporting.


KY oil well operators sentenced for SDWA violations

On Friday, Jan. 17, two Kentucky oil well operators were sentenced in United States District Court for continued violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) for the continued conspiracy to inject fluids, without a permit, into sinkholes and wells.

Charles L. Stinson, 75, of Horse Cave, Ky., and Ralph Dowell, 75, of Edmonton, Ky. -- operators of Logsdon Valley Oil Co. Inc. -- were sentenced to two years' probation. Stinson and the oil company were ordered to pay fines for the violation, which occurred in Hart County, Ky., from March 13, 2008, through July 18, 2012. The two men were sentenced by Senior Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr.

Stinson and Dowell were charged in an eight-count federal Superseding Indictment on August 15, 2012. They pleaded guilty to violating a requirement of an applicable underground injection control program.

Specifically, they configured piping to inject produced brine water (fluids brought to the surface in connection with oil production) from the tank battery to sinkholes, and injected produced brine water into one of them, conveying fluids into the sinkholes.

According to the plea agreement, Stinson and Logsdon Valley Oil Co. Inc. agreed to a fine of $45,000 to be paid at sentencing. Further, Stinson agreed to provide adequate documentation to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)that the well used for illegal injection is regulated to protect underground sources of drinking water from contamination.


Carbon capture, sequestration technology usage outlined in EPA rule

A final rule to help create a consistent national framework ensuring the safe and effective deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies has been issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The new rule clarifies that carbon dioxide streams -- captured from emission sources, injected underground via UIC Class VI wells approved for geologic sequestration under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and meeting certain other conditions (e.g., compliance with applicable transportation regulations) -- will be excluded from EPA's hazardous waste regulations. Further, the Agency clarifies that these wells for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) are expected to be an efficient waste management activity.

CCS technologies allow carbon dioxide to be captured at stationary sources (like coal-fired power plants and large industrial operations) and injected underground for long-term storage in a process called geologic sequestration. The EPA concluded that the careful management of carbon dioxide streams under the specified conditions does not present a substantial risk to human health or the environment.

Further, the Agency's determination will help provide a clear pathway for the deployment of CCS technologies in an equal manner while also ensuring protection of underground drinking water sources.


Nine hazardous waste sites added to Superfund's National Priorities List

On Wednesday, Dec. 11, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added nine hazardous waste sites that pose risks to public health and the environment to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites, with another eight more to potentially be added.

With all NPL sites, the EPA identifies companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly-listed sites without viable, potentially responsible parties, the EPA will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting significant cleanup at the site. Therefore, it may be several years before significant EPA cleanup funding is required for these sites.

The following nine sites have been added to the NPL:

  • Beck's Lake (former automotive and hazardous waste dump) in South Bend, Ind.
  • Garden City Ground Water Plume (ground water plume) in Garden City, Ind.
  • Keystone Corridor Ground Water Contamination (ground water plume) in Indianapolis, Ind
  • Cristex Drum (former fabric mill) in Oxford, N.C.
  • Hemphill Road TCE (former chemical drum recycling) in Gastonia, N.C.
  • Collins & Aikman Plant (former automotive rubber manufacturer) in Farmington, N.H.
  • Jackpile-Paguate Uranium Mine (former uranium mine) in Laguna Pueblo, N.M.
  • Wilcox Oil Company (former oil refinery) in Bristow, Okla.
  • Makah Reservation Warmhouse Beach Dump (municipal and hazardous waste dump) in Neah Bay, Wash.

The following eight sites have been proposed for addition to the NPL:

  • Macmillan Ring Free Oil (former oil refinery) in Norphlet, Ark.
  • Keddy Mill (former sawmill, grist and wool carding mill) in Windham, Maine
  • PCE Southeast Contamination (ground water plume) in York, Neb.
  • PCE/TCE Northeast Contamination (ground water plume) in York, Neb.
  • Troy Chem Corp Inc (chemical manufacturer) in Newark, N.J.
  • Unimatic Manufacturing Corporation (former chemical manufacturer) in Fairfield, N.J.
  • Wolff-Alport Chemical Company (former metal extraction facility) in Ridgewood, N.Y.
  • Walker Machine Products, Inc. (former machine screw products manufacturer) in Collierville, Tenn.

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