Fracking Recycle!: CJ Environmental Examines Hyrdraulic Fracturing and Water Recycling

March 4, 2013

by Kyle Martin

Fracking Protestors Photo by CREDO.fracking

The hydraulic fracturing (aka ‘fracking’) controversy rages on in the US and around the world. Every day, old coal, oil, and natural gas mines are re-stimulated to extract elusive hydrocarbons. There are several methods of fracking used to extract oil and natural gas, and each one is specific to the type of rock formation to be fractured.
The Dangers of Extracting from Shale
The process of extracting from shale is particularly resource-intensive, trading millions of gallons of precious fresh water in return for recovered domestic fuels valued in the billions. A huge percentage of the input water is not recoverable by conventional means, however, many companies are attempting to recover all or part of the “flowback” water in order to clean and reuse this invaluable resource for future “frac-jobs”.
The Process
Let’s take a brief look at the process and the numbers involved in fracking. A 9” hole is drilled over 7,000 feet into a layer of shale. Once the middle of the layer has been reached, directional drillers move horizontally, cutting across the shale as far out as one-and-a-half miles. After this subterranean tube has been drilled, it gets lined with a concrete sleeve. A 5” steel pipe is brought in to channel fuels more than two miles back up to the surface. This is achieved by pumping 5-10 million gallons of water mixed with sand and a secret chemical slurry into the concrete sleeve until the pressure builds up, cracks the shale apart, and allows the fuels to flow out of the shale, like a sedimentary angioplasty. The return on investment for 10 million gallons of fresh water yields an expected billion-and-a-half cubic feet of natural gas over the 2-3 decade lifetime of the well.
Water is Precious
Out of the millions of gallons of water used for each well, enough to supply hundreds of homes for an entire year, only about 20-40% can be recovered as fracking waste, also known as “flowback.” This industrial waste is usually re-injected into old well holes, so under business-as-usual fracking practices, 100% of the 5-10 million gallons of polluted fresh water are sequestered from the water cycle for millions of years.
Water Can Be Recycled, but to What Extent?
Here’s where recycling comes in. Many companies are now attempting to recover part of their water investment by reusing flowback. The frack water is transported to holding ponds where it goes through a filtration process that removes most of the proprietary chemicals and biocides. Salt from the shale remains, and the only way to remove salt from water is an energy-intensive process known as desalination, where the water and salt are separated through evaporation. The fresh water that results from this process is still not drinkable by legal standards, so the only thing that can be done with recycled frack water is to reuse it in the next frac-job, then clean it up again.
While recycling wastewater from the fracking process does indeed conserve water, it only does so in the short term. After the world is fracked to its limit, all of these millions and millions of gallons will eventually end up being injected deep underground, unless processes are developed to completely remediate water used in fracking. The cost of fossil fuel extraction continues to rise, and every year, it seems that the ratio of resources in to resources out is slowly coming to parity. Given that fossil fuels are essentially sunlight trapped underground in fossilized plant matter; shouldn’t we forego mining for old sunlight when we have the ability to make all of the electricity we need straight from the sun shining here and now?
Just One Cause among Many
Fracking is just one of the many environmental concerns plaguing our planet. While no single person or organization can tackle them all, every effort (even as small as opting for a reusable water bottle) is worthwhile. CJ Environmental has chosen refining as its mission for bettering our earth. Offering precious metal, electronic scrap, and dental refining for big business and individuals, CJ Environmental hopes to help preserve the earth’s precious resources.

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