Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rand Study Details How Using Coal Mine Drainage For Fracking Could Clean Streams

Could hydraulic fracturing provide a means of cleaning some Pennsylvania streams?  Perhaps so.

A new study from the Rand Corporation gives hope that gas development could partially reduce "acid mine pollution," by using for hydraulic fracturing the highly acidic water that drains from old coal mines and piles of coal waste. Acid mine pollution or what Rand calls Coal Mine Water is generally judged the leading cause of damage to Pennsylvania's waters, because it essentially destroys all aquatic life, and devastates about 4,000 miles of streams in the Commonwealth.

Not long after the shale gas boom began, the possibility emerged of using acid mine drainage now fouling streams as a source of water for hydraulic fracturing.  Doing so would be a double win for the environment by reducing the damage done by acid mine drainage and decreasing water withdrawals from streams for hydrualic fracturing.  Making the possibility of using acid mine drainage in this manner more tantalizing is the fact that often acid mine pollution is most severe in areas where gas development is also taking place.

The Rand Study states: "All told, the amount of  CMW [coal mine water] in the region is likely to exceed the quantity of water required by the Marcellus Shale extraction industry in the next decade by a large margin."  Rand further finds that the economics of using this resource will vary, depending on site specific characteristics, including transport distances, and chemistry of the CMW.

The whole study is here:

Typically to stop acid mine drainage from devastating streams requires constant, forever treatment of the polluted waters.  It is very expensive to do. A substantial environmental victory would be won, even if a handful of sources, where untreated coal mine water is now devastating streams, could be stopped by using the polluting water for hydraulic fracturing.


  1. I think this could be a win win- but this will require a public and private partnership and the creation of a fund to put in place long-term funding to maintain a series of passive and "natural" treatment systems. If possible, it might be a great idea to try to link this use with an existing wastewater treatment system near a major railway. I proposed this concept about 3 years ago and Mine Drainage will actually help treat flowback and production water.

  2. Has this actually been tried? With the industry already having imperfect solutions to disposing of waste water, it doesn't seem like a great idea to throw in another toxic waste source into the mix. I'm all for finding solutions to amd - but since the quantities are so large compared to what the drillers need, it seems like a risky thing to do with not that much benefit. I guess it could be the next example of our fine state being an experimental zone?

    1. I don't believe it has been done. What's the benefit-risk calculation? I guess it depends on what value one places on the streams or stream that is returned to health by capturing the amd water.