The tremendous boom in shale gas production in the U.S. over the past several years has dramatically altered the global energy supply landscape. As the U.S. moves closer to independence from foreign oil there is a growing concern related to the environmental impact from fracking operations.
Earthquakes throughout the Midwest and Northeast have created a debate around the repercussions of fracking—According to the U.S. Geological Survey, prior to the year 2000, seismic events in the nation’s midsection averaged 21 per year. Since then, the events have risen to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011. Research indicates that seismic activity has escalated with the increase in the number of injection wells created for frac water disposal.
As claims emerge over the quantity of gas stored under U.S. soil, public concern is becoming a preeminent topic. A better solution is needed to manage flow back water, allowing oil and gas operators to curb the negative perception that is beginning to impede the growth of fracking in the US. Operators can stem the tide of negativity by re-evaluating their wastewater treatment processes and seeking out solutions that are safer, less complex, and more cost-effective.
Re-vamping Strategies Towards Better Practices
Companies have begun monitoring conditions in impoundments and containment ponds. AgraTek, for example, has developed a system to monitor sub-surface contamination from waste holding ponds to detect leakage from animal feedlot manure waste holding lagoons.
AgraTek, a company that provides irrigation control solutions, is currently working with industry and government regulatory agencies to promote the use of their solar-powered system to automatically monitor leachate and waste lagoons, providing early warning leak detection. This system provides a low-cost alternative to expensive sampling wells.
Companies have started evaluating self-regulation as a method to meet industry compliance standards. A report from the Department of Energy states that effective and capable regulation is essential to protecting the public interest. Counter to this position is the importance of industry to remain proactive in self-regulation and protecting the public interest while maintaining a solid business model.
Re-thinking Technologies for Safer Fracking
With water treatment predicted to increase nine-fold to $9B by 2020, the advancement of innovative and groundbreaking technologies will expand to meet the industry’s need. Lux Research recently revealed a few key companies working to revolutionize fracking through innovative water treatment processes:
- WaterTectonics developed a high-energy electrocoagulation technology that addresses heavy metals, biological matter and hydrocarbons, but is limited to areas where salt levels are moderate.
- EcoSphere, AquaMost lead in oxidation technologies. AquaMost uses catalyzed UV to achieve many of the same results, but also removes metals. Though it’s still an early-stage startup, it ranks as a high potential player.
- GasFrac, a technology licensed from Chevron, uses propane to fracture gas wells. Shell, Husky and others are testing the technology.
- Ecologix Environmental Systems has developed a mobile Integrated Treatment System (ITS) for treating up to 900 GPM of flowback water. It removes essentially all suspended solids and prepares flowback water to be reclaimed and reused through an extended series of wells.
As companies set out to revolutionize the industry with new water treatment solutions, we’ve observed that the most cost-effective treatment systems must be based on a mobile platform. Mobile frac water treatment systems allow for drilling companies to operate off-the-grid, which is a valuable time and money saving strategy. Mobile just makes a lot of sense in an industry where job-sites are constantly moving.
Re-directing Public Opinion
States are increasingly concerned over wastewater generated from fracking, but are limited in the approach they can take. Insufficient wastewater treatment infrastructure (Wastewater Treatment Plants) places increased burden on the states, necessitating many of them to redirect the water disposal companies outside state borders. The net result of this activity is an increase in wastewater disposal costs to the drilling companies and a decrease in state revenues collected from fracking operations. In terms of market sustainability, drilling companies need to work with the states to establish operating procedures and then communicate those to educate and inform the public.
Shale gas has been dubbed a “game changer” as people are embracing, more than ever, the natural gas revolution as a means for economic recovery and an increase in well-paying jobs. According to a poll by the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, 83 percent of those surveyed favorably connect natural gas development with U.S. job growth.
Communicating new strategies toward wastewater treatment and sharing the positive impact of drilling such as increased jobs, stimulating economy and lower natural gas prices must be emphasized.
In what ways do you think the industry can move toward greater sustainability?