What’s the fracking problem with water recycling?

| December 2, 2013

Water recycling is a trendy topic these days. However, things get a little sensitive in oil and gas country, where the practice of fracking entangles with profit margins and drought conditions, making for heated debates.

This debate takes us to Texas, where drought conditions are rife. Still, the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is increasingly commonplace. Fracking is a method of releasing natural gases from the earth. It takes an average 4.4 million gallons of water to frack one well. (Yes, you read that correctly.) It’s worth noting that this figure is from Pennsylvania, where the ground conditions are different than those in Texas, so figures may vary — but you get the idea.

To put that in perspective, NPR points out that 4.4 million gallons of water is the same amount used by 11,000 American families in a day. It’s also enough to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools.

water recycling

Fracking is controversial for a number of reasons, among them the damage it does to the water supply. From www_ukberri_net.

The problem extends beyond the sheer volume of water usage. In order to frack properly, chemicals are used along with the water. Chemicals “are used to dissolve minerals, kill bacteria, thicken the fluid, prevent corrosion of pipe, and otherwise aid the fracking process,” NPR reports.

Understandably, many people want to explore methods of recycling the water used in fracking. In a story republished in The New York Times, Texas Tribune writers Jim Malewitz and Neena Satija dug in (no pun intended) to the fracking-and-recycling issue in Texas.

Malewitz and Satija spoke to the operations manager for Fasken Oil and Ranch, which recycles “close to half of the water it uses for fracking.” They do so even though recycling the water means losing money — to the tune of $70,000 for each fracking session.

water recycling

Protesters pose with “fracking flavored” water. From greensefa.

Recycling water, though perhaps ethically sound, costs operations like Fasken significantly more than purchasing fresh groundwater. In Texas, only a small handful of operations request oil field water recycling permits each year. That number has increased over recent years, but it’s still miniscule compared to the number of operations engaged in fracking.

For most operations, it’s simply not financially worthwhile to recycle water. Still, “industry observers say the drought’s grip on Texas has prompted a shift in energy companies’ attitudes,” report Malewitz and Satija.

Part of the problem is that even water that is recycled from fracking can really only be used for fracking again. That’s because existing recycling methods don’t remove all the chemicals. If someone were to find a way to clean the water enough that it could be used for something other than fracking, oil operations could be incentivized to sell their used water. We’re not there yet, say Malewitz and Satija, but this type of technology might be coming down the pipeline. (Sorry. Another pun.)

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Category: Recycling programs, Regulations

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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