A boom in Marcellus Shale drilling has also created a list of environmental concerns and accelerated the need for research and public policy at state and federal levels.

Marcellus Shale drilling and its potential effects on local waterways is one of the topics to be discussed at the 2010 West Virginia Water Conference Oct. 6 and 7 at the Waterfront Place Hotel. The theme for this year’s conference is “West Virginia’s Water Resources: Threats and Opportunities.”

Click to listen to Paul Ziemkiewicz talk about water quality challenges in the region:

[ Click to listen ]

“We’re having a particular focus this year on water-related regulations,” said Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute. “Water regulations, if they’re done intelligently, will protect the environment and protect the state’s economy. If they’re not done properly, they’ll do neither or they’ll do one at the expense of the other.”

The conference combines educational programs with opportunities for researchers, policy makers, regulators, agencies and the public to share in the latest information, technologies and research relating to West Virginia’s water resources. It features water quality experts from West Virginia University, the state and nation. U.S. Rep. Alan B. Mollohan will be the keynote speaker.

Click to listen to Paul Ziemkiewicz describe the conference goals:

[ Click to listen ]

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection says about 500 gas wells have been drilled in the state in the last three years with no signs of letting up. Since early 2008, the Pennsylvania DEP has issued 3,800 Marcellus shale well permits.

The Shale, a geological formation stretching under West Virginia and much of the Appalachian Basin, is one of the nation’s largest reservoirs of natural gas, with at least one estimate saying it could provide cheap gas for the U.S. for 14 years. A recent report from the American Petroleum Institute estimated it contained gas reserves worth $2 trillion.

Tapping the Shale’s gas using fracing – which requires millions of gallons of fresh water plus small amounts of sand and additives – has created environmental concerns.

New York state has not allowed gas well drilling into the shale for two years but drilling continues in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“Marcellus has the potential to be a very, very important component of our total water quality picture here,” Ziemkiewicz said. “A lot of water is withdrawn to make up hydrofracing operations and a significant amount of water comes back out.

“If that’s disposed of properly, then we don’t have a problem. If it’s recycled and goes back into the next frac job, we don’t have a problem. But to the extent that some of that water can come back out into the environment then you are going to see some impact.”

To combat those problems, Ziemkiewicz has received a $600,000 federal grant for a research and demonstration project that aims to facilitate recycling of the returned frac water. The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory under its Oil and Natural Gas Program and links WVU with Filtersure Inc., a company that already developed a self-cleaning filter that removes solid particles suspended in frac water. Removing solids is the first step in almost any water treatment process but Ziemkiewicz is also looking for ways to remove enough of the salt and minerals so that water can be reused on the next natural gas well.

The system will be small enough to be trucked to a gas well for on-site water treatment. Then, instead of trucking untreated frac water off site, the treated water could be used for the next job. A pilot scale version of the system has been operating since March and further testing is under way. Ziemikiewicz also wants to explore ways to reuse treated mine water, either combining it with frac water to help the dilution process or filtering it on its own for reuse.

The WVWRI, a program of WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy, is also working on a comprehensive water quality monitoring and reporting project for the Monongahela River watershed. Water samples are collected bi-weekly from 16 sites along the Mon, which stretches from Fairmont into southwestern Pennsylvania. The samples are analyzed in a laboratory at the NRCCE for TDS and chemicals that may pose health risks.

Four plenary sessions are scheduled for the conference including “New Gas Well Extraction Methods: Does Marcellus Opportunity Mean Water Threats?” Ziemkiewicz is one of the panelists for “The Mon River TDS Policy Concerns.” Joyce McConnell, dean of the WVU College of Law, is the moderator for “Legislative Approaches to Addressing West Virginia’s Water Quality Issues.” Another WVU researcher, Todd Petty, of the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, will be a panelist in the “Surface Mining and Water Resources in the WV Coalfields” session.

For additional details on the conference, see: http://www.wvwaterconference.org.



CONTACT: WVU University Relations – News

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