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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pa.'s attempts to track gas drilling waste flawed

The natural gas industry's claim that it is making great strides in reducing how much polluted wastewater it discharges to Pennsylvania rivers is proving difficult to assess because of inconsistent reporting by energy companies — and at least one big data entry error in the state's system for tracking the contaminated fluids.

Last month, Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection released data that appeared to show that drillers had found a way to recycle nearly 6.9 million barrels of the toxic brine produced by natural gas wells — fluid that in past years would have been sent to wastewater plants for partial treatment, and then discharged into rivers that also serve as drinking water supplies.

But those figures were revealed Thursday to have been wildly inflated, due to a mistake by Seneca Resources Corp., a subsidiary of Houston-based National Fuel Gas Co. The company said a worker gave some data to the state in the wrong unit of measure, meaning that about 125,000 barrels of recycled wastewater was misreported as more than 5.2 million barrels.Read More