Here is an update on water pollution from shale gas fracking, as published in Scientific American magazine. The nation’s oil and gas wells produce billions of gallons of contaminated water each day, according to an Argonne National Laboratory report. And that is an underestimate of the amount of brine, fracking fluid and other contaminated water that flows back up a well along with the natural gas or oil, because it is based on incomplete data from state governments gathered in 2007.
The volume will only get larger, too: oil and gas producers use at least 7.5 million liters of water per well to fracture subterranean formations and release entrapped hydrocarbon fuels, a practice that has grown in the U.S. by at least 48 percent per year in the last five years, according to the Energy Information Administration. The rise is quickest in places such as the oil-bearing Bakken Formation in North Dakota or the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale underlying parts of New York State, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
The problem is that the large volumes of water that flow back to the surface along with the oil or gas are laced with everything from naturally radioactive minerals to proprietary chemicals. And there are not a lot of cost-effective options for treating it, other than dumping it down a deep well. But as certain states that are experiencing drought begin to restrict industrial water usage, fossil-fuel companies are experimenting with traditional and untraditional water treatment chemistries and technologies to try to clean this dirty water—or limit its use in the first place.
There are no good solutions to the contaminated water problems of our nation. As the Scientific American article points out, recycling is not an adequate solution, reverse osmosis and other membrane methods are expensive and not very efficient, and specialized methods now being developed have not shown sufficient promise. One can read about the soybean oil method described in the article. Fracking with propane does not involve the use of large volumes of water but does require more expertise in its operational details. Why didn’t someone realize that a moratorium on drilling and fracking should have been in place until adequate technology was developed to avoid all the environmental impacts, all the infrastructure dislocations, all the public health questions, and the greenhouse gas/climate change problems therefrom.