State Water Resources Research Institute Program

Project ID: 2009PA95B
Title: Characterization, Treatment, and Reuse of Frac Water related to Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing of Marcellus Shale and Natural Gas Exploration in Pennsylvania
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2009
End Date: 2/28/2010
Congressional District: 10th
Focus Categories: Water Use, Wastewater, Treatment
Keywords: Marcellus shale, hydraulic fracturing, wastewater, frac water treatment, brine
Principal Investigators: Higgins, Matthew J.; Gilmore, Kevin R.
Federal Funds: $ 16,000
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 32,152
Abstract: The natural gas present in the geologic formation of Devonian Shale (known more commonly as Marcellus Shale) that underlies much of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has the potential to contribute to energy independence for the U.S. However, the current state of technology for extracting this resource (hydraulic fracturing of horizontal wells) requires extreme quantities of water. Each well may require as much as 2.1 to 8 million gallons of water (Myers, 2008, NYDEC, 2008), and this water is recovered as highly saline concentrated flow-back brine ("frac water"), which must be disposed of. Current options for disposing of used frac water are limited, and the high salt concentration results in the potential for water quality deterioration. This urgent problem lies at the heart of the water-energy nexus: we must encourage energy independence through the judicious development of natural energy sources while maintaining both the quantity and quality of our water resources. As a result, this research will investigate the water challenges related to hydraulic fracturing of horizontal natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale formation.

Specifically, the project will:

Provide a detailed characterization of frac water including chemical, physical, and biological parameters. This characterization will allow researchers to design appropriate treatment processes, evaluate blending scenarios, and consider reuse of frac water for multiple well fractures. In addition, geochemistry models will be evaluated to determine their suitability for simulating chemical changes in the unstable frac water.

Evaluate sources other than potable water for use in hydraulic fracture operations. Typical characteristics for natural waters, reclaimed wastewater, etc., will be compared to requirements for slick water makeup, and blending scenarios will be evaluated using mass balances and the water characterization described above.

Investigate the suitability of membrane separation processes, such as reverse osmosis, for concentrating the used frac water brine to reduce the volume for ultimate disposal. This level of technology is necessary for removing dissolved salts that are expected to be the most significant class of pollutants present in the frac water. This phase will provide preliminary data that will set the stage for subsequent more detailed research.

Progress/Completion Report, 2009, PDF

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