Your Environment Update for June 11, 2015

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

June 11, 2015

In this week’s Environment Update: We take a look at one lawmaker’s push to  allow fracking companies to use dirty water from coal mines and check out a new study from the EPA on fracking and water pollution.

Can dirty water from coal mines be put to use by natural gas drillers?

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

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.

EPA releases new study on fracking and water pollution

The EPA released a long-term study last week on fracking and water pollution. The big headline: Fracking doesn’t seem to have caused widespread problems. But there were some limitations to the study, according to Ellen Gilmer, a reporter with Energy Wire.

“The biggest limitation is that EPA, with the evidence that it has, is unable to really quantify how often contamination can happen. So while it has come to the conclusion that there’s no widespread risk of contamination, it’s really not sure what percentage of wells have caused contamination,” Gilmer says.

On the political front, reactions to the study have been mixed. According to Gilmer, republicans in Congress say the findings provide an impetus for a review of regulations currently placed on the oil and gas industry. In contrast, environmentalists say the cases of water contamination documented in the study demonstrate the need to craft more secure regulations for fracking.