Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Pennsylvania’s DEP Offers Acid Mine Drainage Water to Drillers

courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation

A coal waste heap rises above the landscape in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is encouraging the use of acid mine drainage for fracking operations. The DEP published a “white paper” today, detailing how the agency intends to review proposals from oil and gas drillers. Using AMD for oil and gas drilling operations was a recommendation by Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.

DEP says more than 300 million gallons of polluted water from decades of coal mining operations, flows into the state’s rivers and streams every day.

Former DEP Secretary David Hess has told StateImpact that more than 184,000 acres of abandoned mine lands exist across the state, resulting in “4,000 miles of biologically dead rivers and streams due to mine pollution.”

Because fracking a well requires on average, four million gallons of water a day, some say using the state’s polluted coal mine drainage waste to frack would help clean up a continuous environmental cost of coal.

Pennsylvania’s environmental problems with coal mining began more than 150 years ago, and communities in northeastern and southwestern parts of the state still live with that legacy. Federal funds to help clean up the coal industry’s damage started flowing to the states in the 1970s under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. The idea was simple: make the current coal industry pay for the mistakes of past coal companies.

But states like Pennsylvania had lots of abandoned coal mines and still have far to go to revive the state’s rivers and streams. In the 1950s and 1960s, coal companies walked away, leaving behind a mess. Some abandoned mines would catch on fire, or fill up with water that would overflow, and end up contaminating streams and rivers. Also left behind were mountains of coal waste, which when exposed to air or water, turned into acid, further polluting groundwater.

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