Could hydraulic fracturing provide a means of cleaning some Pennsylvania streams? Perhaps so.
A new study from the Rand Corporation gives hope that gas development could partially reduce "acid mine pollution," by using for hydraulic fracturing the highly acidic water that drains from old coal mines and piles of coal waste. www.statejournal.com/story/17515367/coal-mine-waterconsidered-for-frac-water. Acid mine pollution or what Rand calls Coal Mine Water is generally judged the leading cause of damage to Pennsylvania's waters, because it essentially destroys all aquatic life, and devastates about 4,000 miles of streams in the Commonwealth.
Not long after the shale gas boom began, the possibility emerged of using acid mine drainage now fouling streams as a source of water for hydraulic fracturing. Doing so would be a double win for the environment by reducing the damage done by acid mine drainage and decreasing water withdrawals from streams for hydrualic fracturing. Making the possibility of using acid mine drainage in this manner more tantalizing is the fact that often acid mine pollution is most severe in areas where gas development is also taking place.
The Rand Study states: "All told, the amount of CMW [coal mine water] in the region is likely to exceed the quantity of water required by the Marcellus Shale extraction industry in the next decade by a large margin." Rand further finds that the economics of using this resource will vary, depending on site specific characteristics, including transport distances, and chemistry of the CMW.
The whole study is here: www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/conf_proceedings/2012/RAND_CF300.pdf.
Typically to stop acid mine drainage from devastating streams requires constant, forever treatment of the polluted waters. It is very expensive to do. A substantial environmental victory would be won, even if a handful of sources, where untreated coal mine water is now devastating streams, could be stopped by using the polluting water for hydraulic fracturing.