A growing number of oil and gas companies are sold on the idea of recycling wastewater.
"Just a few years ago, many drillers suspected water recyclers were trying to sell an unproven idea designed to drain money from multimillion-dollar businesses. Now the system is helping drillers use less freshwater and dispose of less wastewater," The Associated Press reported last week.
The shift occurred almost overnight. It's happening "so swiftly that regulators are racing to keep up and in some cases taking steps to make it easier for drillers to recycle," the report said.
This presents regulatory challenges.
"In Texas, requests for recycling permits rose from fewer than two a year in 2011 to 30 approved applications in fiscal year 2012. So the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that oversees oil and gas operations, revamped the rules in March, eliminating the need for drillers to get a permit if they recycle on their own lease or on a third-party's property," according to the report.
Various technologies are available to get the job done.
"Many companies, each using slightly different technology and methods, are offering ways of reusing that water. Some, like Schlosberg's Water Rescue Services, statically charge the water to allow particles of waste to separate and fall to the bottom. Those solids are taken to a landfill, leaving more than 95 percent of the water clean enough to be reused for fracking," the report said.
Other operators, such as Walton, Ky.-based Pure Stream, offer two technologies — "one that cleans water so it can be reused in the oil patch and another more expensive system that renders it clean enough to be dumped into rivers and lakes or used in agriculture."
Dickinson, ND is seeing the shift, according to the Grand Forks Herald. “Regulators and energy companies are looking at ways to recycle hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water, or use systems that can work with higher-salinity water, in efforts that could lead to cost savings, environmental benefits and less truck traffic on roads that are dangerously behind the boom," the report said.
“It’s moving ahead, but rather slowly and cautiously,” said Lynn Helms, North Dakota’s head oil and gas regulator, in the piece.
Water recycling has raised worries. "Caution comes from concerns over spill risks," the report said.
To recycle the water for one frac job, Helms said in the article, "you have to come up with a safe way to transport and store 70,000 to 100,000 barrels of very salty water.”
The water recycled at fracking sites is not headed to the tap.
"While the recycled water can't currently be cleaned up enough for drinking or growing crops, it can be cleaned of chemicals and rock debris and reused to frack additional wells, which could sharply cut the costs that energy companies face securing and disposing of water," the Wall Street Journal reported.
Read more about fracking on Water Online.
Image credit: "Fracking Waste Containers," © 2013 Tar Sands Blockade, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
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