Schedule set to develop shale gas, coalbed wastewater treatment standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it will develop standards for wastewater discharges from natural gas extraction from underground coalbeds by 2013 and shale formations by 2014.

EPA said it will gather data, consult with stakeholders and solicit public comment on a proposed rule for coalbed methane in a shorter timeframe because EPA already gathered extensive data and information in this area. EPA will also take the additional time to gather comparable data on shale gas.

Currently, wastewater from shale gas extraction is prohibited from being directly discharged to waterways and other U.S. waters.  While some is reused or re-injected, there remains some that requires disposal. As a result, some shale gas wastewater is transported to treatment plants, many of which are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater. EPA will consider standards based on demonstrated, economically achievable technologies for shale gas wastewater that must be met before going to a treatment facility.

Wastewater associated with coalbed methane extraction is not currently subject to national standards for being directly discharged into waterways and for pre-treatment standards. Its regulation is left to individual states. For coalbed methane, EPA will be considering uniform national standards based on economically achievable technologies.

In particular, EPA will be looking at the potential for cost-effective steps for pretreatment based on currently used practices and technologies to reduce pollutants in these discharges.

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