Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016PA227B

Evaluating a Potential Win-Win for Water Quality Management in Pennsylvania: Systems-Level Quantitative Analysis of Abandoned Mine Drainage and Produced Water Co-Treatment

Institute: Pennsylvania
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $20,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $68,444

Principal Investigators: Leanne Gilbertson

Abstract: Pennsylvania has a longstanding role in U.S. energy production starting with coal and more recently, natural gas. The most notable unintended consequence associated with the extraction of these energy resources is the production and discharge of hazardous waste streams. Untreated abandoned mine drainage (AMD) discharge from coalmines has led to thousands of miles of polluted rivers and streams in Pennsylvania causing destruction of local ecosystems. Current efforts to rehabilitate these natural habitats include passive treatment processes, which require a significant amount of land and the long-term impact on the environment is largely unknown (due to limited improvement in water quality that these systems provide). While there are alternative physical and chemical treatment processes, these approaches present economic (e.g., infrastructure and maintenance), and resource (e.g., energy and chemical) demands. What makes the proposed AMD co-treatment approach unique is that it utilizes one aqueous waste stream (i.e., produced water from hydraulic fracturing operations) to treat another, while producing a value added products (e.g., usable water for future fracking projects). Though there are economic and resource demands compared to the current passive treatment approach, there are several benefit tradeoffs that are necessary to account for in a comprehensive feasibility evaluation. The study outlined herein aims to provide the necessary comprehensive, quantitative, systems-level analysis comparing the current conventional and proposed state of the art AMD treatment approaches. The project will involve conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) – a systems-level methodology for quantifying environmental and human health impacts associated with a product or process – informed by data collated from current practice and literature as well as empirical studies. The proposed impact assessment will compare the conventional and novel AMD treatment processes to i) determine the total environmental burden of the two approaches, ii) identify specific attributes that contribute most to the total impact, which will then be used to inform potential alternatives for redesign to minimize the environmental burden, and iii) inform an impact-benefit ratio (IBR) analysis. The IBR methodology is a screening level approach applied to emerging technologies to quantify the impact and benefit tradeoffs. The goal is to enable realization of a net environmental, human health, or economic benefit (depending on the product or process analyzed). An example outcome relevant to this study is the determination of the optimal or maximum possible distance between AMD and hydraulic fracturing sites to still realize a net benefit. Combined, the results will be used to inform best practices for AMD treatment in Pennsylvania.