News Feature | July 30, 2014

Tech From MIT May Clean Up Fracking Wastewater

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Could new technology make it easy to treat frac water?

Gradiant Corporation of Massachusetts is testing that possibility with a process called carrier gas extraction. Gradiant, whose research is partially supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is working with Pioneer Natural Resources, a Texas oil company, to put its technology into practice, the MIT Technology Reviereported

Problems with the disposal of fracking wastewater, and the threat it poses to the water supply, have haunted the expansion of the shale gas industry and spurred efforts to regulate produced water in many states. 

How does Gradiant's process work?

"The water is pretreated to remove oil and grease residue and solid particles. The company heats the saline water and sprays it into a porous material with a large surface area, saturating air with water vapor. This water-saturated air is then pumped up through tiny holes in a series of shallow, water-filled trays," the report said.  

"As bubbles pass through the water in the trays, the water vapor in the bubbles condenses and joins the water it is passing through, creating more fresh water. This so-called 'bubble column' allows the company to condense water vapor without needing expensive metal heat exchangers," the report said. 

Over 80 percent of the heat used by the system is recycled. Remaining waste is stored in landfills. The technology is being targeted at the domestic energy industry, the report said.

Fracking has been linked to everything from earthquakes to water contamination. 

Back in June, "Colorado regulators halted the disposal of fracking wastewater into a well after a small earthquake was detected in the area around the well," Think Progress reported

In July, "California officials ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in Kern County, fearing they may be contaminating sources of drinking water that are sorely needed in the drought-stricken state," Desmog Blog reported.

For more oil and gas news, check out Water Online's Produced Water Solution Center

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