Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wastewater Treatment in the Marcellus Shale

There have been lots of headlines lately about the fears of fracking in the Appalachian Basin as drilling in the Marcellus Shale heats up.  Today's Washington Post featured an article about concerns over how frac wastewater is treated.  This is a real issue, compared to the overblown perception that gas drilling ruins groundwater, and it is being actively addressed.

The issue revolves around frac water that comes back out of the well during the completion process.  In Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, that waste water is usually trucked to an injection well and deposited deep in the earth (likely a problem for another day, but...).  In Appalachia, the geography and geology does not allow for these wells, so the water is usually trucked to a municipal treatment plant, where it is treated and discharged into a river.  Unfortunately, because frac wastewater is very salty, the treated wastewater still has some salt and impurities after treatment, and the release into waterways has in some places impacted salinity levels and led to other concerns. 

The gas producers are working on this issue very actively.  There are solutions from frac tanks to recycling being used, while at the same time municipalities are reducing the amounts of frac water they will take.  This is not a new issue for the region, as coal mines often have to pump out millions of gallons of tainted water that seeps into mines. 

Water, both going in and going out, will continue to be one of the biggest issues related to shale gas and an appropriate response by the gas producers will go a long way in keeping the golden goose alive and well.

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