Water is an essential component of the hydraulic fracturing process. It is also of the key topics in the debate surrounding the environmental concerns with fracking. With recent studies showing an increase in the already colossal volumes of water used for fracking in the Marcellus region, much research is focused on better alternatives for the treatment of wastewater and how to properly utilize or dispose of it.
In 2018, a Duke University study illustrated the natural gas extraction industry’s growing need for water in their operations. The study showed that from 2011 to 2016, the median volume of water used for fracking in the Marcellus region rose by 1.3 million gallons, from 6.1 million gallons to 7.4 million gallons. In 2016 alone, 600,000 gallons of wastewater was recovered from the wells. Though most of the water is lost underground in the fracking process, the recovered water is typically held in injection wells deep underground. The wastewater is considered environmentally harmful, and generally useless, making disposal even more difficult.
The discussion on wastewater is changing, and technology is being developed to find a use of the brine. Last week, MGX Minerals and Eureka Resources have signed a letter of intent on bringing new technology to the Marcellus region. Their technology combines MGX’s existing lithium harvesting technology with Eureka’s wastewater treatment procedures to extract the “valuable co-products” such as lithium, fresh water, and other materials from the frack water. The immediate benefit of this venture is the decreased water footprint of the oil and gas industry. Though the Marcellus region does not have a water scarcity problem, other shale plays in the country could largely benefit from the ability to reuse the freshwater harvested from wastewater in future drilling operations. Additionally, the lithium and other materials extracted can be repurposed for products such as batteries.
The natural gas extraction debate has existed in the Marcellus region since its boom in the late 2000s. Environmental groups have voiced their disapproval with the environmental effects that the industry has brought upon the region with wastewater always in the discussion. With this attention, new technology to decrease the environmental impact of fracking has followed the industry as it has grown. Though environmental concerns linger, there are definite steps being taken to reduce fracking’s impact and alleviate such worry.