Recent advances in shale gas development have largely outpaced efforts to manage associated waste streams that pose significant environmental risks. Wastewater management presents significant challenges in the Marcellus shale, where increasing fluid volumes concomitant with expanding development will threaten to overwhelm existing infrastructure over the next decade. In this work, we forecast growth in drilling, flowback, and produced fluid volumes through 2025 based on historic data and consider conventional and alternative disposal options to meet future demands. The results indicate that nearly 12 million m3 (74 MMbbl) of wastewater will be generated annually by 2025. Even assuming wastewater recycling rates in the region rebound, meeting increased demands for wastewater that cannot be reused due to poor quality or logistics would require significant capital investment to expand existing disposal pathways, namely treatment and discharge at centralized facilities or dedicated brine injection in Ohio. Here, we demonstrate the logistical and environmental advantages of an alternative strategy: repurposing depleted oil and gas wells for dedicated injection of wastewater that cannot otherwise be reused or recycled. Hubs of depleted wells could accommodate projected increases in wastewater volumes more efficiently than existing disposal options, primarily because the proximity of depleted wells to active production sites would substantially reduce wastewater transport distances and associated costs. This study highlights the need to reevaluate regional-scale shale wastewater management practices in the context of evolving wastewater qualities and quantities, as strategic planning will result in more socially and economically favorable options while avoiding adverse environmental impacts that have overshadowed the environmental benefits of natural gas expansion in the energy sector.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- General Environmental Science
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health