Where Does the Waste From PA’s Marcellus Wells Go?

A new dataset has been added to FracTracker’s DataTool which aggregates the waste produced by Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania in the last half of 2011 by the facilities that receive them. And while all of this waste was produced within the Commonwealth, the waste products are disposed of over a wide geographical area, spanning six states:

Note: Due to a change in FracTracker’s mapping utility, data from the last half of 2011 has been replaced by data from the first half of 2013 in the map above.  Please press the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner of the map to access full controls.

One can only guess at the business decisions involved with the shipping of large quantities of waste from Pennsylvania to eastern New Jersey or southern West Virginia. In other shale plays, the majority of waste is disposed of through deep well injections nearby, but it has long been known that Pennsylvania’s geology is unsuitable for these wells (see page 67 of this 2009 report, for example). And the 4.0 New Year’s Eve temblor near caused by waste fluid injection near Youngstown, Ohio has residents and officials in the Buckeye State thinking much the same.

State receiving Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale waste produced from July to December 2011

In the chart above, solid waste is measured in tons while liquid waste is measured in barrels. In terms of solid waste, the majority–218,000 tons–is actually shipped out of state.  On the other hand, most of the liquid waste is dealt with in Pennsylvania (15.1 million barrels), but the 1.7 million barrels sent to Ohio is certainly significant. The 3.5 million barrels sent to an “unspecified location” is actually good news: the vast majority of that is recycled for use in subsequent wells. Not only does this give operators something constructive to do with the waste they produce, it also helps preserve fresh water resources in the region by offsetting water withdrawals.   Here is the same data arranged to show the various methods of disposal:

PA Marcellus Shale waste disposal by method, July-December 2011

While the recycling efforts are starting to make a dent in the overall picture of how Pennsylvania handles its Marcellus Shale waste fluids, it still far from being the primary means of disposal. In fact, two thirds of the liquid waste produced is still being treated at brine and industrial waste facilities, which have a questionable ability to remove total dissolved solids, heavy metals, and other contaminants from waste water, which ultimately works its way back into Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams.

10 replies
  1. Matt Kelso
    Matt Kelso says:

    Please note that this page has been edited on 10/8/13. Previously, there were two maps that used our now-defunct DataTool. The first was replaced with a more recent map using our newer ArcGIS Online platform. The second had no equivalent, and was therefore removed.


  2. Michael Frede
    Michael Frede says:

    What is the best way to contact the appropriate people that make the disposal decisions? Our company finds alternative options for the reuse of industrial by-products and would like to explore the options for frac sands and cuttings.

    • Matt Kelso
      Matt Kelso says:

      I would imagine the best strategy would be to contact the drilling operators that are active in your area. In the map below, click the blue “i” tool then any map feature to bring up a popup window that lists the wells in the area where you clicked. Then click “View” to get more information, including the operator’s name.

  3. Matt Kelso
    Matt Kelso says:

    I’ve gotten numerous questions about the source of this data, which I explained in the dataset’s metadata, but apparently neglected to do so on this post:

    The source of the data is https://www.paoilandgasreporting.state.pa.us/publicreports/Modules/DataExports/ExportWasteData.aspx?PERIOD_ID=2011-2. Some of the entries provide latitude and longitude, while others provide addresses. I took the ones with addresses and geolocated them with ArcGIS. It is possible that inaccuracies were created in this process, but a more likely source of error is if an address other than the actual facility was used, for example, a billing address.

  4. Elton DeLong
    Elton DeLong says:

    Matt, Nice compilation and map but your data is flawed. PA Brine’s two plants have not accepted or treated any Marcellus wastewater since the request by Secretary Krancer in August 2011.

    • Matt Kelso
      Matt Kelso says:

      Elton, thanks for your comment–I do want to point out a couple of things though. First, it is not our data, it is DEP data. Second, I have heard from other sources that PA Brine facilities is not accepting Marcellus wastewater, but August is still included in the six month waste report. This probably explains why the Marcellus wastewater values are so low though, as compared to other facilities.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] According to fractracker.org, Seneca Meadows Landfill takes drilling wastes from Pennsylvania.  https://www.fractracker.org/2012/03/where-does-the-waste-from-pas-marcellus-wells-go/ […]

  2. […] Fox also recommends looking at FrackTracker.org, which has recently begun tracking all the toxic waste water produced in the Marcellus. Share […]

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