Alternate Waste Management Practice at an Existing Well Site

I regularly track the activities in my neck of the woods, but have come across a new one. Chesapeake has recently applied for an authorization for an "alternative waste management practice" at one of their well sites. Can anyone shed some light on what this? I have not heard this term used before. Thanks.

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Becca- to me, it sounds like CHK may be trying to bio-remediate some drill cuttings on the site rather than having them incinerated and thermally desorbed. I've seen oil based mud cuttings handled in both ways very successfully. The cuttings pit is leveled and plowed, bacteria are added and watered in to break down the residual oil, the mixture is occasionally stirred up and periodically sampled until the residual oil gets to a pre-determined or desired level.  Thermo desorption cooks everything and the base fluid can be drawn off the bottom of the vessel and used as the fuel, if it is combustable. The cooking continues until the waste is oil free. More expensive than bio-remediation, but both methods can be used effectively. I saw both in the middle east, where we got 330 days of sun each year to help the microbes do their thing



I'm impressed with this answer but have a few questions. What are mud cuttings and how large is a cuttings pit? How much land does it take for this process and is the landowner compensated for having land tied up? How long does the bio-remediation process take? What does it do for soil fertility? Thanks for your well informed reply. That's why I love this site.


Kathi -

depending upon the size of the rig and its mud pumps, the pit may be 50ft wide by 100 ft long and about 8-12 ft deep. Cuttings are the rock particles generated by the crushing action of the drill bit and carried to surface by the mud flow. The mud/cuttings mix is flowed over a vibrating "shale shaker" to segregate solids from the whole liquid mud, which is routed into the active pits for use again. The cuttings are often sampled by the well site geologists or mud-loggers, who analyze and record  a variety of parameters to help guide the well to the correct spot. The unsampled cuttings flow down the slide at the back end of the shakers and into the pit.


Where I saw bio-remediation in action, the Goverment (Emirate of Sharjah, UAE) owned the land (sand dunes, mostly), so no compensation was sought nor paid. As I recall, the bio-remediation took six to eight months per site, which was aided by  330days/year of sunshine and 120°F temperatures in the summer months. As I also recall, not a great deal of stuff grew in that sand, so I cannot really recall any boosts in soil fertility, though I can't competely rule it out either.


During my 4-1/2 years on that project, we transitioned from using mud to drilling with natural gas and a bit of water as the fluid; the solids generated were mostly dust and did not require any remediation.



In the past in ohio for conventional well drilling the oil and gas industry's has used a stabilization/ solidification process for disposing of drill cuttings on site. Basically as much of the liquid ( oil, brine, water, drilling mud ) is pumped out from the lined drilling pit and the remaining cuttings and other oilfield related fluids and residues ) are mixed with lime, fly ash, calcium oxide and other materials to solidify the waste in the ground. After it is mixed the liner is pulled over the top of it and soil is placed over the disposal area. This is an attempt to permanently solidify and prevent the buried materials from leaching into the ground and water table in the future. The solidified waste has elevated levels of salts, oils, metals and other things and can be a potential risk to ground water in senitive areas since it is not 100 percent effective. Not the best method in the world for disposal but more economic than removal of all waste and sent to a licensed land fill where any leachate is collected. From what I've seen so far in Ohio unconventional shale well drilling does not utilize drilling pits in the ground; everything is contained in above ground tanks and all waste is taken to a licensed landfill. This is the best method, however, this may change in the future to cut cost of drilling unconventional wells.

This is an interesting topic and the more I read, the more interesting it gets as far as Ohio is concerned. I would not like this waste material buried on my land. I found the following site that explains a lot but does not convince me that the drilling waste must be removed.  It only states where it is to be taken if it is removed.

Further, ORC 1509.072 states that the pits need to be filled after the well is completed, but not that they have to be emptied before being filled.  So the question remains, can all of this waste be buried at the well site under Ohio law?  I'm sure some of you must know.  Thanks.



I am in PA, but very close to Ohio. I think a lot of this is interesting and all things that will need to be dealt with as the industry develops in our area. I

I think the drilling waste only becomes a regulated "solid waste" when it is removed from the drilling site. Regulated solid waste is required to go to a licensed solid waste landfill. This is obviously to prevent the drilling waste from being excavated and taken to somebodys farm or somewhere and dumped. If it is disposed of at the drilling site I think it is excempt from solid waste regulations and is left to the discretion and policy of ODNR. As far as I know almost all non liquid drilling waste is disposed of on site for conventional wells. I don't know of any ODNR regulation that even requires liquid waste from being removed from the drilling site,however, surface and subsurface water and soils are prohibited from being contaminated therefore most liquids have to be removed to prevent contamination and to achieve solidification of the solids. Deep horizontal shale wells, however, may have some additional issues especially since there will be a lot more waste and drill cuttings due to the larger diameter and longer length of the wells. There is also an issue of naturally occurring radioactivity with the cuttings. So far I think most studies have shown that radioactivity is not at a health risk level, however, there is continuing research on this issue and landfills accepting drilling waste are being required to sample the waste for radioactivity. A call to ODNR would probably clarify some of these issues or questions(maybe).


Thanks for your reply.  In the middle of the paragraph, did you mean to say that "I don't know of any ODNR regulation that even requires "liquid" waste from being removed," or did you mean "solid" ?  While I am in favor of drilling and would welcome the rig under the right conditions, I would be concerned about eating food grown on top of such a waste sight. 



Kathi...I did mean liquid. The ORC that you cited may be all there is related to the closure of drilling pits as far as regulations go in Ohio. Without researching it further, the closure of the drilling pit regarding disposal of the waste it contains may be more of a ODNR policy, accepted industry practice, or condition of a permit. Interesting subject.

Thanks so much. I think the next thing to do is find out what the current practice is at horizontal well sites. As for the permits, I will see if there is anything relevant on the ODNR website. Maybe someone else on this blog can shed more light on the subject.

While waiting for an answer from someone from ODNR re. whether or not drill cuttings have to be removed from the site of horizontal wells, I decided to look at some of the leases that I collected from various land owner group meetings that I attended. It is interesting that the new leases require that the drill cuttings be removed from the site. Then I checked two leases for the wells on my HBP land and found that there is no mention of the issue. It looks like this will be another item to be included in the list of things to be changed if asked to amend a lease to be placed in a larger unit. Hopefully we can get ODNR to make it a requirement.

What state are you in? If Ohio, what county?



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