Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016OK325B

Algal Remediation of Waste Water Produced during Hydraulic Fracturing

Institute: Oklahoma
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $24,866 Total Non-Federal Funds: $49,732

Principal Investigators: Nurhan Dunford

Abstract: This proposal involves algal remediation of waste water produced during hydraulic fracturing for gas production in Oklahoma. Access to shale gas has been made possible with the development of hydraulic fracturing technology (frac) where water, graded sand, and a mix of chemical additives are injected under high pressure to create fissures in shale formations for gas extraction. Typically, 2-6 million gallons of water are utilized for a single horizontal well frac operation during both the drilling and fracturing steps. After the frac process, the well is depressurized and 10-40% of the water is recovered from the system. This fluid is referred to as flow-back water. A significant fraction of flow-back water unfit for recycling is injected in deep disposal wells. In the absence of available deep-well injection sites water is trucked for disposal at great expense. Water disposal costs are about $2-3/barrel plus transportation. There are also claims that deep-well injection adversely affect underground water sources. Oklahoma is one of the largest natural gas producing states in the country. The industry utilizes fracking technology widely and frac water remediation is becoming a major issue for the state. Finding solutions to frac water remediation/utilization is critical for the long term sustainability of these operations and most importantly for protection of the environment, safety of the citizens and conservation of diminishing water resources which is a critical issue causing a lot of concerns. Considering the scarcity of fresh water resources, integration of waste water treatment and industrial food, feed and other product manufacturing is very important. We are proposing to produce algal biomass using frac water. Then, biomass can be converted to industrial bioproducts. The PI’s research group has already demonstrated that Oklahoma native algae strains can be grown in frac water. The preliminary tests which were carried out in small laboratory scale closed reactors indicate great potential for algal absorption of undesirable heavy minerals and other chemicals from frac water while growing biomass that can be used feedstock for bioproduct development. In this application we are proposing to collect flow-back water samples from several hydraulic fracturing operations in Oklahoma and grow Oklahoma native algae strains in these samples. The samples will be analyzed for water quality before and after algae growth and harvesting to determine the efficacy of the algal water remediation. This is an integrated project involving research, extension and student training. This project will also allow us to offer extension workshops organized for 4-H and extension personnel and graduate and undergraduate student teaching and training. This proposal is particularly important for the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) Department because it cultivates a new expertise area; waste water remediation and algal biomass production, and builds up new resources that will benefit research, teaching and extension efforts of our department. The PI of this project has trained several graduate and undergraduate students including CEAT Freshman and Research Scholars on this topic. The PI’s algae research also benefited DASNR extension programs. She wrote 3 Fact Sheets on this topic. Her algae research was highlighted in Vanguard, an OSU magazine, and just recently, OSU Sunup TV and a local TV station, TV3, did segments highlighting her algae research. She also wrote several magazine articles and gave oral presentations at national and international conferences. Above mentioned achievements clearly demonstrate the high impact of this program. There is no doubt that the funding provided to this project will benefit and escalate the visibility of all three program areas, research, extension and teaching, within DASNR, CEAT and OSU in general.