Drillers Could Make Use of Coal Mine Runoff Water

  • High iron levels color the water running off a reclaimed mountaintop removal mine in Kentucky, April 19, 2010. Photo: ILoveMoutains.org via Flickr

CORRECTION: The audio version of this story refers to a state investigation into water quality of a Pennsylvania stream. The state has found high levels of radioactivity in the stream, not radiation. 

June 12, 2015

The “hydro” part of hydraulic fracturing refers to the large quantities of water that are pumped into rocks to extract oil and natural gas. Now, one lawmaker wants the gas industry to frack with runoff water from abandoned coal mines instead of freshwater pulled from rivers and streams.

The former is not in short supply. Whenever it rains, polluted water pours out of Pennsylvania’s thousands of abandoned coal mines. For years, fracking companies have said they would be happy to use mine drainage rather than fresh water. A bill by Republican State Senator Camera Bartolotta from Washington County could help make that happen.

“The big thing is that we’re not taking millions and millions of gallons of fresh water out of our lakes, rivers and streams,” Bartolotta says.

A similar bill was tabled in the Senate last year.

Energy companies were concerned that using some water for mine drainage would leave them liable for cleaning it all up in perpetuity.

“This bill eliminates all of that. The treated water is the responsibility, the liability of the coal company. They treat it, and it’s prepared, it’s ready. And then once the gas industry takes possession of that, it is in their liability,” Bartolotta says.

Environmental groups opposed last year’s bill because they said it would harm the streams and communities where the mine water is being taken from. Penn Environment, an environmental advocacy organization, has not weighed in yet on Bartolotta’s new bill.