Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Recycling wastewater may be key to tapping tight gas fields in more environmentally friendly way

We've been following the natural-gas "fracking" boom closely, but now the country's largest news agency is on the story. "A drilling technique that is beginning to unlock staggering quantities of natural gas underneath Appalachia also yields a troubling byproduct: powerfully briny wastewater that can kill fish and give tap water a foul taste and odor," Marc Levy and Vicki Smith of The Associated Press report. (AP map by P. Prengman)

Fracking, short for "fracturing," is a drilling method in which "millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are blasted into each well to fracture tightly compacted shale and release trapped natural gas," the reporters explain. It has opened the Marcellus Shale's deep, vast gas reserves for the first time, but the industry must develop proper wastewater disposal and recycling techniques before moving ahead, Levy and Smith write. "The Marcellus Shale in on its way to being the nation's first gas field where drilling water is widely reused," they predict.

"Many doubt the hard Appalachian geology is porous enough to absorb all the wastewater, and the climate is too humid for evaporating ponds," the reporters write. "That leaves recycling as the most obvious option." Entrepreneurs are currently marketing systems to distill the wastewater at well sites, Levy and Smith report, and Range Resources Corp. in southwest Pennsylvania already "pipes wastewater into a central holding pond, dilutes it with fresh water and reuses it for fracking." Levy is based in Pennsylvania, Smith in West Virginia. (Read more)

1 comment:

Martha Speaks said...

We have been down this road before, where brine discharge from oil field operations threatens public waterways. In the early 1980s the US Army Corps of Engineers was afraid Yatesville Lake would become "Dead Sea II" unless they could stop Ashland Oil from dumping produced water brine into local creeks. Only after they got the EPA to shut down Ashland's Martha Oil Field did the Corps finish Yatesville Lake.