Appalachian Basin

The Mysterious Case of The Flowback Fluid

Where does natural gas flowback fluid from hydraulic fracturing go once it reaches the surface of the earth? Is it dumped in lakes and rivers? Definitely not.  Is it evaporated in open pits?  Not anymore.  Is it injected into highly regulated, deep disposal wells.   Yes, some operators do use this method.  However,  Operators, by and large, are choosing to use the method of the future and that which is required by all Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) member companies more often than not in our region. What method is that?  The 100 percent recycling and reuse of flowback fluid at other hydraulic fracturing jobs.

Reducing Impacts by Recycling Water

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. – Pittsburgh Tribune

As technology and time progresses, new and more efficient practices are coming into play regarding hydraulic fracturing.  It’s been around since Halliburton first developed the process over 60 years ago, yet with technological advances continuing to improve the methods and best practices, it’s not your old hydraulic fracturing process. Everyday, the many engineers, scientists and other experts working in the natural gas industry progress to make this the safest and most economically sound process.

On my latest tour with Cabot Oil and Gas I had the opportunity to see the Comtech Facility, which is the heart of their closed loop water management and recycling system.  Comtech is Cabot’s flowback fluid recycling center, and it is truly a game changer as it takes the place of the open pits that were once used to evaporate the water out of the flowback fluid.

During the hydraulic fracturing process between 5 million and 6 million gallons of water are used along with additives such as friction reducers and sand (Keep in mind 99.5% of the fracturing fluid is water and sand).  Once the hydraulic fracturing process is completed between 20 – 30 percent of the original water used flows back to the surface where it is instantly stored in steel containment tanks.  This fluid is then taken to the Comtech facility where it is out through a chemical precipitation process and used at another hydraulic fracturing site.

Here is another great video explaining this process.

What Happens to the Solids?

Comtech Facility

Comtech Facility

All of the solids coming back up within the flowback fluid are all naturally occurring compounds.  Once the water is precipitated out, the solids are put through a high pressure compactor where they form a hard clay like block.  In Pennsylvania, the solids are then sent to a landfill; however, in many parts of the country farmers use it to fertilize their farmland. The operator in the above video told me, “Its like giving your land vitamins.”

The workers at the Comtech facility wear hard hats, goggles and latex gloves because the only thing they are worried about are slips, trips, and falls in the workplace.  None of the flowback fluid or chemicals used in the recycling process require them to wear masks, sensors or HAZMAT suits.

Closed-loop systems and recycling prevent operators from introducing materials into the environment that weren’t previously there.  They are also able to cut down on fresh waster used as well as fuel needed to transport the flowback fluid out of state for disposal.  The Comtech facility has the ability to be broken down within a week and moved to stay in the middle of Cabot’s operations and keep truck traffic and fuel consumption to a minimum.

These new facilities are truly a game changer and will change the way the business is done, minimizing risks by making it safer and more environmentally friendly.


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