Reuse of acid mine water in hydraulic fracturing operations proposed in Pennsylvania

On January 13, 2014, the Pennsylvania Senate’s Appropriations Committee passed S.B.411 which would amend Pennsylvania’s Environmental Good Samaritan Act to limit the liability of mine operators who provide “treated mine drainage from a permitted mining activity site” for reuse in hydraulic fracturing operations in oil and gas development.  The mine operators would be “immune from liability for any cost, injury or damage arising out of the use of the treated mine drainage” if (i) the mine water is used outside the boundaries of the permitted mining activity, (ii) the water is for the development of a gas well or another beneficial use, and (iii) the mine operator is not the same person using the water for gas well development or other use.

This bill has been promoted as a means of encouraging gas drillers to use mine water rather than relying on the continued heavy use of municipal and fresh water sources as well as a means of remedying one of Pennsylvania’s greatest sources of water pollution, namely drainage from abandoned mines.

Without the limitations provided under S.B. 411, oil and gas developers are understandably reluctant to use acid mine water, having concerns about the potential long term liability for any future impacts on fresh water sources under the state’s Clean Streams Law while only using the mine water temporarily, for a few weeks at most. 

In January 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection published a white paper to promote the voluntary use of acid mine water by the oil and gas industry and to establish a process for the review and evaluation of proposals to use acid mine water in natural gas extraction operations.

Of interest is a recent Duke University study indicating that, when acid mine water and hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids are blended together, the acid mine water can act as a treating agent to remove radioactive material from the fracking wastewater.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson ( or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.