November 13, 2019

Smarter Produced Water Management Options: Can the Regulatory Landscape Keep Pace?

Gary Steinbauer and Kevin Garber

Unconventional natural gas development in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays has seen unprecedented growth since 2012. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are now among the top gas-producing states, with Pennsylvania emerging as the second-largest natural gas producer in 2018, behind Texas. U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural Gas Marketed Production, www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/ng_prod_sum_a_EPG0_VGM_mmcf_a.htm (last visited Aug. 8, 2019). The historic rise in production comes with increased volumes of produced water and waste streams that must be managed by natural gas operators. Produced water is naturally occurring brine brought up to the surface from the hydrocarbon reservoir during extraction of natural gas. Although the volume of produced water varies by well and formation, produced water is by far the largest water source by volume generated in the gas production process. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Management of Exploration, Development and Production Wastes: Factors Informing a Decision on the Need for Regulatory Action (Apr. 2019), at 3–11, www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-04/documents/management_of_exploration_development_and_production_wastes_4-23-19.pdf. Many unconventional natural gas operators treat, reuse, and recycle produced water to increase their water usage efficiency, cut down on the costs of disposal, and recover valuable materials.

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