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RESEARCH ARTICLE: Production and Disposal of Waste Materials from Gas and Oil Extraction from the Marcellus Shale Play in Pennsylvania

  • Kelly O. Maloney (a1) and David A. Yoxtheimer (a2)

The increasing world demand for energy has led to an increase in the exploration and extraction of natural gas, condensate, and oil from unconventional organic-rich shale plays. However, little is known about the quantity, transport, and disposal method of wastes produced during the extraction process. We examined the quantity of waste produced by gas extraction activities from the Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania for 2011. The main types of wastes included drilling cuttings and fluids from vertical and horizontal drilling and fluids generated from hydraulic fracturing [i.e., flowback and brine (formation) water]. Most reported drill cuttings (98.4%) were disposed of in landfills, and there was a high amount of interstate (49.2%) and interbasin (36.7%) transport. Drilling fluids were largely reused (70.7%), with little interstate (8.5%) and interbasin (5.8%) transport. Reported flowback water was mostly reused (89.8%) or disposed of in brine or industrial waste treatment plants (8.0%) and largely remained within Pennsylvania (interstate transport was 3.1%) with little interbasin transport (2.9%). Brine water was most often reused (55.7%), followed by disposal in injection wells (26.6%), and then disposed of in brine or industrial waste treatment plants (13.8%). Of the major types of fluid waste, brine water was most often transported to other states (28.2%) and to other basins (9.8%). In 2011, 71.5% of the reported brine water, drilling fluids, and flowback was recycled: 73.1% in the first half and 69.7% in the second half of 2011. Disposal of waste to municipal sewage treatment plants decreased nearly 100% from the first half to second half of 2011. When standardized against the total amount of gas produced, all reported wastes, except flowback sands, were less in the second half than the first half of 2011. Disposal of wastes into injection disposal wells increased 129.2% from the first half to the second half of 2011; other disposal methods decreased. Some issues with data were uncovered during the analytical process (e.g., correct geospatial location of disposal sites and the proper reporting of end use of waste) that obfuscated the analyses; correcting these issues will help future analyses.

Environmental Practice 14:1–10 (2012)

Corresponding author
Kelly O. Maloney, USGS–Leetown Science Center, Northern Appalachian Research Laboratory, 176 Straight Run Road, Wellsboro, PA 16901; (phone) 570-724-3322ext. 239; (fax)570-724-2525; (e-mail)
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P. Drohan , M. Brittingham , J. Bishop , and K. Yoder . 2012. Early Trends in Landcover Change and Forest Fragmentation due to Shale-Gas Development in Pennsylvania: A Potential Outcome for the Northcentral Appalachians. Environmental Management 49(5):10611075.

S. Entrekin , M. Evans-White , B. Johnson , and E. Hagenbuch . 2011. Rapid Expansion of Natural Gas Development Poses a Threat to Surface Waters. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9(9):503511.

R.S. Fisher 1998. Geologic and Geochemical Controls on Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Produced Water from Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Operations. Environmental Geosciences 5(3):139150.

D.M. Kargbo , R.G. Wilhelm , and D.J. Campbell . 2010. Natural Gas Plays in the Marcellus Shale: Challenges and Potential Opportunities. Environmental Science & Technology 44(15):56795684.

S. Rassenfoss 2011. From Flowback to Fracturing: Water Recycling Grows in the Marcellus Shale. Journal of Petroleum Technology 63(7):4851. Available at (accessed October 19, 2012).

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Environmental Practice
  • ISSN: 1466-0466
  • EISSN: 1466-0474
  • URL: /core/journals/environmental-practice
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