By Neil Voloshin
In the spring of 2019, U.S. government-funded research on watersheds revealed a dire outlook for the future of water availability in the United States. Between population growth and climate change, the study reports that “serious water shortages'' are likely to occur within the next 55 years.
It is needless to say that the increasing population is translating into escalating demand for water. One example being that Los Angeles alone has grown by a million people since the 1970s, while the water resources for usage remain the same. And with the accelerating dryness occurring in the climate, exacerbated by months of summer wildfires, evaporation has steadily increased — with up to 96 of the 204 water basins that provide fresh water to Americans projected to have monthly shortages by 2071.
This paints a grim picture for the future of hydrological affairs in America, with serious doubts compiling about the effectiveness of conventional water management methods, such as expanding reservoirs and mining more aquifers. Innovation needs to occur, and in order for the U.S. to continue to provide for itself, we need to start tapping into the resources that are available to us.
Let’s analyze the extreme and escalating need for hydrological innovation, new technologies that can provide solutions, and finally, how recycling water can help avoid starvation of resources in the U.S. — building a path to a more sustainable future.
Resources Are Running Dry
Record-high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the West Coast, along with prolonged drought in these areas and the Upper Midwest, are stressing crops and livestock — raising concerns about irrigation water supplies as conditions persist. Due to changing environmental conditions, it has been one of the lowest crop yields for some crops since the drought of 1988 in the West and Midwest. What is more, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report, agriculture is a major user of ground and surface water in the U.S., and irrigation accounted for 42 percent of the nation’s total freshwater withdrawals.
In a recent article by the New York Times, it was further shown that climate change is making wildfires burn hotter and longer, increasing the risk to urban water supplies as their territory grows steadily year after year. The compilation of these facts is hitting some states harder than others depending on a myriad of factors, including geographical location, economic exports, necessary imports, and current water management infrastructure.
New Mexico is a prime example of one state that has been drastically affected by water disparities, as the state currently pursues a supreme court case for the fair allocation of water rights between itself and Texas. New Mexico alleges that Texas’ groundwater pumping allowed them to take surface water greater than its share and violated the compact between the states. Inversely, Texas claims that New Mexico owes millions of gallons of water and millions of dollars to them. With New Mexico starving for water, many western states can relate as they are still navigating the aftermath of being ravaged by this year’s fire season — showcasing an extreme need for new hydrological resources.
It is clear that traditional methods for hydrological extraction are no longer enough for the nation’s water and food supply needs and that it is well past time to start looking for other potential sources and alternatives.
Reclaiming produced water is becoming vital to provide a more long-term solution to cater to the voluminous needs of man, which are only increasing with population growth. In recognizing and taking action on these solutions, the country can more confidently ensure autonomous ability to provide for the essential needs of the population.
The Wastewater From Fracturing (Fracking) Could Be An Untapped Resource
According to the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC), the fracking process uses an average of one million barrels of water per day (BPD) for a single horizontal well. Traditionally, produced water is disposed of by injecting it into wells deep in the ground, but the geology in some parts of the U.S. is not compliant with such practices. Concerns about inducing destructive seismic activity have the industry looking for alternatives, but this has been the primary practice to date.
The dramatic growth of shale gas over the past decade, due to fracking, generates vast volumes of salty wastewater called brine or produced water. There are already over 1.7 million fracking wells in existence, and the industry is anticipated to grow at a healthy rate of about 7.6 percent over the forecast period 2021-2027. This makes for an untapped resource that has immeasurable potential and could quench the nation’s hydrological needs. Rather than continuing to subscribe to the always growing challenge in finding disposal for this produced water, the water could be reused and provide clean water to many industries across the U.S.
There is a substantial amount of the water used in fracking that comes back up along with extracted gas. The caveat, however, is that the water that returns has a much different chemical composition than what went down. The conventional open-pit method of storage for this produced water exacerbates the chemical toxicity further, leading to the containment of many harmful chemicals, and resulting in what looks more like black sludge than water. It is also difficult to characterize the chemical composition of produced water because many of the chemicals used to treat the water in the fracking industry are proprietary.
The widely accepted current methods of treating water are insufficient when it comes to getting produced water to the level of safety needed to recycle it — and what is more, they are costly. The vacuum distillation of water, although effective, is by far the most expensive method and therefore is less common. The alternative method of membrane filtration is what 80 percent of wastewater management companies use. This type of treatment uses membranes to extract particles from water in a process similar to conventional sand or media filters — eliminating suspended solids but unable to remove chemicals that have been absorbed. Although this method isn’t expensive at first glance, having to replace the membranes time and time again can eventually add up.
What is truly needed is a method, despite all the circumstances, that is cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and most importantly, efficacious in making water recycling not only possible but a sought-after solution.
Advancements in technology have made it so that produced water has increasing potential to be recycled and reused. This comes at a time where the EPA is also considering changing its policy to give the fracking industry more options to discharge produced water. The agency released a draft document in May summarizing practices used by oil and gas companies to manage produced water. With current innovations, the possibilities in water recycling have grown. There are several breakthrough discoveries happening, but one that is especially gaining traction is cavitation technology.
Cavitation Technology Is A Solution: Turning Produced Water Into A Resource
The power of cavitation technology comes from the fact that it can create a solution for water reclamation within the resource of water itself. Cavitation is the chemical process of reducing a liquid to a certain level of pressure, and by doing so, transforming that liquid through a chemical reaction of bubbles into a repository of vapor or dissolved gas.
In this process, nanoreactors break down the physical composition of water into nanoparticles — naturally turning the water into stored energy. That energy is then a catalyst, making the water organically separate the good from the bad chemical components. In turn, this process can actually intrinsically create a vital chemical that is traditionally put into the water at the treatment plants that make it available for reuse. So, what is the vital difference between cavitation and traditional methods of water treatment?
Rather than pouring in grandiose amounts of chlorine and bleach to remove harmful chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide in produced water, cavitation’s technological reactors are a conduit to a chemical process that causes the water to naturally produce its own chlorine. This provides a substantially more effective way to treat water and can provide an alternative solution to the excessive use of chemicals — minimizing the toxicity hazards associated with disinfection.
With a cavitation nanoreactor® at the first leg of any water treatment process, the number of chemicals needing to be used is drastically reduced. This significantly minimizes the need for harmful chemicals to detoxify, cutting down on the constantly compiling costs that come with replacing parts needed for treating water at such a high chemical volume — whether that be through membranes or vacuum distillation. Cavitation can mitigate expenses because when there are fewer chemicals or products to be broken down, such as the removal of salt or calcium, the process of extracting impurities is much faster and more efficient.
Other than the fact that cavitation is a solution that is hiding in plain sight, there are a few substantial benefits to highlight. The first is the relatively low cost of implementation, bringing solid return on investment (ROI) as the treatment of water uses substantially fewer resources and is significantly less costly — no matter what method of water treatment is being used by a company. Second, because cavitation stimulates a chemical reaction that produces chlorine naturally; heavy metals, fats, oil, grease, complex organics, bacteria, viruses, and cysts are organically removed — thereby significantly increasing the quality of the water. Finally, removing the need to pour exorbitant amounts of chemicals into the water to treat it not only saves the expense of the chemicals but eliminates the impact of these chemicals on the surrounding environment.
With cavitation technology, the reuse of resource materials is maximized, transportation and disposal costs are slashed, and the associated liabilities with using chemicals to treat water are mitigated. What is more, the treatment of produced water is simplified through its own chemical processes — helping to utilize whatever liquid to which it is applied to its full capacity. But all of this begs a pivotal question: How can the use of cavitation technology on produced water provide a solution to water shortages?
Remediation To Provide Water Solutions
In 2019, the GWPC released a report that evaluated the current regulations and practices for managing produced water. The research outlined the need to turn produced water into a valuable resource. According to the same report, the oil and gas industry handles about 55 percent of produced water as wastewater, meaning individual companies are challenged to find ways to dispose of all this produced water — showing notable promise in recycling if a feasible solution is acquired.
If industries, and fracking specifically, can effectively remediate water, there is hope to alleviate the urgent need for water that is becoming all too common in some parts of the U.S., especially in the increasingly arid west.
The growing issues in water shortages and starvation in food and livestock cannot be denied, and will definitely not vanish overnight. However, this disintegration of resources goes beyond just the production of essential needs — with an estimated three out of four jobs globally dependent on water. As shortages get worse and regulations tighten, this problem is not only causing people to lose their jobs but could very well limit economic growth in the coming decades, manifesting a slippery slope for the U.S.
Unfortunately, the traditional standard of water management that the nation subscribes to is not able to carry the weight of growing demand. With industrial, agricultural, and domestic water needs only increasing as hydrological reliability inversely decreases, a viable way to recycle wastewater is needed sooner rather than later.
Cavitation is a cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and intelligent solution to start reversing what has become a detrimental trend in U.S. hydrological affairs. With infrastructure and global strategic partners to secure funding, the expansion of water treatment technology can be made tangible, and the threat of water shortages can be mitigated for good.
More importantly, there are businesses that are stepping up to the plate to help these technological solutions become a reality in the industries that need them the most — manifesting a new era for water leadership in the country. Wastewater could be a silver bullet for the nation's increasingly grim hydrological needs because, through cavitation, there is an attainable way for the water to be recycled — procuring a sustainable and long-term solution for the future of the nation.
Neil Voloshin is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Cavitation Technologies, Inc.