Name that School! (Who’s Developing Technologies to Recycle Water from Shale Gas Development)

We’ll give you a couple clues: Most recently, they were crowned Big East tournament champions in men’s basketball. Its notable alumni include Don Knotts of Three’s Company and the Andy Griffith Show, and Billy Mays – who, may he rest in peace, would quite literally sell you the shirt off his back. Give up? It’s West Virginia University.

Shale gas development, enabled by new, cutting-edge horizontal drilling techniques coupled with the 60-year old energy production technology called hydraulic fracturing, is helping to unlock America’s estimated 100 years supply of clean-burning natural gas. This fracturing process requires relatively large amounts of water, however. And just as technologies in the telecommunications, healthcare and automotive industries continue to advance, getting better and smarter, so too are technologies required for producing homegrown, job-creating energy reserves. These advancements – which continue to progress almost daily – help safeguard air, water and overall environmental quality, and bring down operating costs, too.

Paul Ziemkiewicz and Jen Fulton, environmental scientists at West Virginia University’s Water Research Institute are “trying to find a better, more environmentally sound way to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation,” with assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy. West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Emily Corio reports this today under the headline “Researchers test way to reuse Marcellus drilling water”:

“Marcellus Shale gas development in West Virginia is going to explode over the next couple of years that is the rate of gas development, the size of the reserve; it’s just going to be a very big new industry for the state,” said Ziemkiewicz, director of the Water Research Institute. “Dealing with the water issue is something we need to do up front rather than wait till we have to play catch up and we’ve really got some problems.”

Companies can now drill in Marcellus shale because of a relatively new technique called hydraulic fracturing where water is forced down into a gas well; the shale is fractured from the water pressure and sand is used to prop open the cracks so the natural gas can escape.

Ziemkiewicz says the filter system they’re testing would not clean the water so that it could be returned to waterways but he says the water would be clean enough for drillers to reuse it.

Jen Fulton, program coordinator with the Water Research Institute, says companies are interested in the research because they’re spending a lot of money trucking the water to underground injection site or special treatment plants.

We’ve gotten a lot of enthusiasm from the industry because they want to be able to reuse the water onsite. They, at this point, need to collect fresh water and bring it to the next site they go to so if they could just use the water they already have, it would really help,” Fulton said.

While these technological advancements are encouraging, many operators – especially in the Marcellus Shale – are already recycling 100 percent of the water used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this back in October under the headline “Range Resources recycles all waste water from Washington drilling”:

Range Resources Corp. announced today that it is now recycling all of the waste water produced by its natural gas drilling operations. … “Range’s recycling program is helping to eliminate wastewater, lower drilling costs, reduce consumptive water needs by 25 percent, and lessen local truck traffic,” said Jeff Ventura, Range’s president and chief operating officer, in a statement. … Recycling won’t be the only long-term water treatment option in reducing waste water from drilling, but it will play a significant role, Ventura added.

State regulators are well-aware of these recycling efforts, as well. In fact, in New York State’s draft regulatory blueprint for shale gas production, this is laid out on page 495 of the document:

It is beneficial to the operators to implement water conservation and recycling practices because of the potential difficulties obtaining the large volumes of water needed for hydraulic fracturing. Most or all operators will recycle or reuse flowback water to reduce the need for fresh water.

The Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection’s Allen Eichler said this about water use and treatment, as it relates to fracturing, in February:

Now most of the fluids in the process are either lost in the formation or recycled.

And in a February release, the Marcellus Shale Coalition stated this about recycled water efforts:

The industry currently treats or recycles all of its flowback water. Recycling accounts for approximately 60 percent of the water used to complete Marcellus Shale wells, with greater percentages predicted for the future. There are more than a dozen approved water treatment facilities available to treat flowback water, with plans for additional capacity in the future.

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