Much has been written about the potential environmental impact of unconventional drilling for shale gas. Much of the controversy surrounding such drilling practices is related to the practice of fracking. Among other concerns, many commentators have raised issues about the possible impact that unconventional shale gas drilling operations could have on local water resources due to the large amount of water that is required to perform fracking. Additionally, many commentators have expressed concerns about whether the used "frac water" that is extracted from gas wells after fracking is complete can be safely disposed. A Texas company specializing in the provision of water resource management services to the the oil and natural gas industries has recently announced that it will be building a water recycling facility in Wheeling, West Virginia aimed at solving both of these issues.
According to a press release by GreenHunter Energy subsidiary GreenHunter Water, L.L.C., it has just closed on the purchase of a 10.8 acre barging terminal facility located in Wheeling, which it intends to convert into a water treatment, recycling, and condensate handling terminal to serve drilling operations in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays. Construction will begin on the facility in mid-April 2013, with operations expected to commence in the third quarter of 2013. According to the press release, the facility "will employ a vibration separation nano-filtration system . . . to remove suspended solids from oilfield brine. Oilfield producers will be given the option to reuse remediated fluids under GreenHunter’s Frac-Cycle™ services offering . . . or take advantage of GreenHunter’s advanced barge logistics capabilities to significantly reduce residual waste transportation costs." The Wheeling facility will be the "first of its kind" according to John Jack, a Vice President at GreenHunter.
The Frac-Cycle™ services appear to offer the most potential for solving water use and disposal issues associated with unconventional drilling for natural gas. According to the company, "Fac-Cycle's flexible design allows the user to take in flowback or produced water and recycle to either clean brine or fresh water." Recycled water can then be used in subsequent frac jobs or, in some cases, an NPDES permit can be obtained to discharge the fresh water into streams.
Obviously, if water can be recycled and re-used in subsequent frac jobs, the amount of water consumed by unconventional drilling operations should be significantly reduced. Additionally, if the technology employed in the GreenHunter facility can, in fact, recycle used frac water into clean freshwater that can be safely discharged under an NPDES permit, the concerns about safe and effective disposal of frac water will be diminished.