Residents concerned about natural gas production usually point to the past as caution - an estimated 5,500 miles of rivers and streams already are polluted by abandoned mine drainage from historic mining practices. The Northeast can't afford any more harm to our water resources, they say. In West Virginia, many of these mines continue to discharge toxic pollutants into the region's waterways.
But there's good news for West Virginia's needed remedy for abandoned mine drainage: Efforts now are under way to harness the vast potential of Pennsylvania's natural gas industry to help address some of the most pressing environmental challenges.
More than 300 million gallons of polluted water discharge daily from abandoned coal mines into waterways in the Northeast. These discharges kill fish and harm wildlife, taint the natural environment, affect property values and hamper economic development.
The problem has persisted for decades, largely because costs associated with cleaning up the mess are so enormous. Finding a fix requires creative approaches.
In January, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued new policies that support natural gas drilling companies to use abandoned mine drainage as a source of water for hydraulic fracturing. Fracturing technology has been an integral part of oil and natural gas production for more than 60 years.
Water is a key component in the well-completion process. Hydraulic fracturing uses millions of gallons of water to create microscopic fissures in dense shale formations, allowing the hydrocarbons to flow freely from the formation and into the well bore.
Until recently, the use of abandoned coal mine drainage had not been a viable option. However, with Pennsylvania's encouragement for operators to use such a source, some natural gas drilling companies already are exploring this opportunity, with good results benefiting both operators and the community. More will do the same.
RETTEW has been working to remediate the effects of abandoned mine drainage for years, designing award-winning systems to remove pollutants, restore watersheds and bring back aquatic life to lifeless creeks and streams. These same systems can be put in place for operators with sites in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to use abandoned mine drainage.
It's a daunting challenge. We've seen firsthand the destruction that abandoned mine drainage can have on our environment. But we've also seen the amazing turnaround that can be achieved when work gets underway and the water and natural habitats are restored.
On June 21, The lntelligencer and News-Register published an article discussing opportunity for drainage in West Virginia to be used in hydraulic fracturing operations here and in nearby states.
Natural gas companies are ready to take blighted resources damaged in the past and turn them into cleaner, greener natural resources - benefiting the many communities affected by AMD without creating another burden on taxpayers.
Sr. Vice President of Strategy
and Business Development
RETTEW Associates Inc.