Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday signed into law a bill expected to pave the way for expanded use of treated coal-mine water in the oil and gas extraction industry.
Senate Bill 875 limits potential liabilities for companies that engage in the practice, which backers say will help limit the millions of gallons of fresh water consumed in energy extraction across the state.
Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the legislation has the potential to reduce acid mine pollution and damage to streams.
“Acid mine pollution has destroyed nearly all life in 5,000 miles of streams and is the most serious form of water pollution in Pennsylvania,” Sheridan said.
“Taking acid mine water that would otherwise go into a stream that causes immense environmental damage and using it in gas drilling will reduce damage to streams because wastewater from shale gas wells cannot be discharged to streams unless fully treated,” he added.
The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Mononghela), who serves as vice chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
According to Bartolotta’s office, some oil and gas companies already use treated mine water in place of fresh water in the natural-gas extraction process, but liability concerns have prevented more widespread use.
Bartolotta’s bill establishes two narrow limits on liability, according to her office:
First, it ensures an oil and gas well operator cannot be held liable for any perpetual treatment or abatement of mine drainage or mine pool water when acquiring treated mine water for well development, leaving that obligation in the hands of mine operators.
Secondly, it clarifies that a mine operator offering treated mine water cannot be held liable for its off-site use by an oil and gas operator.
The legislation does not relieve mine operators or energy companies from any environmental obligations under current law, Bartolotta pointed out.
“It is imperative for lawmakers to support efforts to protect our environment and develop our natural resources safely and responsibly,” Bartolotta said. “The use of treated mine water by natural gas companies is an innovative approach that will help preserve millions of gallons of fresh water, and I am thankful that more companies will have the freedom to explore this option.”
The measure cleared the state House on Sept. 21 by a 160 to 37 vote. It passed the Senate on Sept. 29 by a vote of 29 to 18.
Views outside the chambers of government were, as with so much involving the state’s energy industry, mixed.
Opposition came from environmental activists, including the Sierra Club and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Supporters included the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.