The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Clean-Burning, Clean-Producing Natural Gas

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 17, 2012

Another kind of good news from Pennsylvania, where natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has increased 450 percent the past three years, bringing jobs and economic growth with it: Waste generation has grown just one-fourth as fast – and 90 percent of it is recycled or reused. Bottom line: As natural gas production from unconventional wells soars, the process is increasingly efficient and clean.

API analysis of data from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, illustrate this key point. First, the figures:

You can see the boom-like growth in gas production from fracking from July 2009 to June 2012, as well as the different ways waste (drilling fluid, flow-back fluid and produced fluid) was handled. While natural gas production grew more than four-fold, generated waste only doubled.  Now, a graph plotting the trend lines for natural gas production (blue) and waste generation (green):

Note the slope of the two lines, illustrating the rate of increase. The natural gas production line is much steeper, and the separation between it and the waste line grows over time. This indicates that for each unit of gas produced, less waste is being generated.

Next, this bar chart shows the disposal methods for waste generated by gas production (July 2009 through June 2012) and how disposal has shifted – away from water treatment and public sewage treatment plants:

Most noteworthy is the significant increase in reuse and recycling, from 73 percent to 90 percent, illustrated in these pie charts:

Again, this is a good-news story on two fronts. First, there’s the dramatic increase in natural gas production via hydraulic fracturing, which means abundant, affordable supply. Meanwhile, waste generation has increased much more slowly – obviously due to the increasing level of reuse and recycling, which now has reached the 90-percent mark. Because of energy companies’ commitment to protecting the environment and through their use of new innovations, clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus also is being produced more cleanly and efficiently than ever before.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.