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University researchers focus on recycling wastewater from fracking
With the help of private and federal funding, a group of Ohio University researchers could discover a sustainable method for recycling wastewater from “fracking” operations, eliminating the need for controversial injection wells.
OU’s project, the “Cost-Effective Treatment of Flowback and Produced Waters Via an Integrated Precipitative Supercritical (IPSC) Process,” is one of 15 that were selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to address “technical challenges to environmentally acceptable shale gas development,” according to the department’s news release from Nov. 28.
The university’s group of researchers, which includes graduate and undergraduate students in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, will receive $1,936,000 to develop the technology, matched by $500,160 in cost-share provided by the project partners including OU, Aquionics Incorporated, Hess Corporation and Parker Hannifin for a total project budget of $2,436,100, said Jason Trembly, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and associate director of the Ohio Coal Research Center. Trembly is also overseeing the project.
There will be six to eight graduate students conducting the research as part of their master’s theses and dissertations, he said. Undergraduate students will help with construction and testing of the project.
The biggest issue with the fracking process is the large amount of water needed and the management of the wastewater that results, Trembly said.
“Currently, they transport water to an injection well where it’s injected and stored,” he said. “We’re trying to develop a technology that will allow us to treat the water such that the water could be reused within the shale play.”
Recycling the wastewater will decrease the amount of water needed for the fracking process, he added.
“Finding cost effective ways to treat wastewater produced by shale gas wells could provide an important alternative to the use of injection wells for disposal of flowback fluids from the stimulation of wells,” said State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-94th, in a news release regarding the OU project Monday.
By recycling the wastewater back into shale drilling operations, there will also be a reduction in truck traffic, which affects local residents and infrastructure, Trembly said.
“By reducing the amount of water transported to the injection wells, we reduce the impact on the local community and government as well as the impact on local water sheds,” he said.
Trembly added that recycling the wastewater seems to have cost-advantages compared to using injection wells.
The goal is to create a prototype model of the wastewater recycling process that could eventually be designed for use at the commercial level, he said.
Although shale development has advanced Ohio’s steel and chemical industries and created jobs, we have to make sure that we protect our water and air for current and future generations, said Sen. Sherrod Brown in a Nov. 28 news release about OU’s project.
“This research at … OU will advance these goals by improving safety and minimizing any negative environmental impact from shale development,” he said.