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WV Lawmakers To Look At Water Rules For Gas Drilling Boom

December 10, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A boom in drilling natural gas wells into a layer of rock known as the Marcellus Shale has dramatically increased the amount of gas that can be produced in West Virginia. But that drilling uses a lot of water and produces huge amounts of what is called "drilling brine." Draft legislation likely to be proposed during the next legislative session would require drilling to meet current wastewater regulations.

Beth Little with the Sierra Club and the Pocahontas County Water Resources Task Force says that's a good idea, because of the volume of water the industry needs.

"It uses millions of gallons of water, many times more, and they have to find it somewhere. Then, it also has the corresponding wastewater."

Little says a big part of the problem is the salt and other minerals dissolved in the brine, which she says are very hard to get rid of.

"By 'brine,' we know it's salty. The water contains mineral salts from the earth that can't be removed by regular municipal treatment plants."

Little says an unknown that could be a problem is what's called "fracking fluids" - water pumped into the wells to fracture the shale and release more gas.

"The 'fracking fluids' are proprietary - they won't release the contents - but we know they contain petroleum distillates to lessen friction."

According to the New York Times, residents of other states have complained about drilling brine affecting well water. Little says she's also concerned about streams and rivers. Drilling company executives told the Times they are willing to consider new rules - although, so far, industry trade groups have come out against the West Virginia legislation.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV