According to reports by the US Energy Information Administration, natural gas production has reached great heights in recent years. However, shale gas production which happens due to fracking or hydraulic fracturing resulted in large amounts of salty wastewater or produced water.
How Is Wastewater Produced From Oil and Gas Production?
The water that is pumped into fracking wells will not stay in the ground; a part of it comes on the surface together with extracted gas. This water has a different chemical composition from that which goes down. The produced water has salts from underlying rock breakage, radioactive substances, and various chemicals added while fracking. The US oil-and-gas industry produces almost 3400 billion liters every year the US Environmental Protection Agency or EPA forecasts that this will keep going up as fracking continues.
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Most of the produced water gets disposed by injecting this into the underground wells. However, the rock surface in some portions of the US will not be conducive to this because of seismic concerns. So, the industry is exploring alternatives. In some cases, the industry has started reusing this produced water for fracking and drilling. In Wyoming, farmers have been using it to irrigate their crops and provide for their livestock.
The EPA has been working on tweaking its policies to allow the fracking industry to have other options for dispensing produced water. Accordingly, it has come out with a draft document for wastewater management by oil and gas companies. The idea of the Agency was to involve the tribes, states, and stakeholders to consider different ways to manage wastewater from both unconventional and conventional oil-and-gas extractions.
The agency probed ways in which federal approaches to wastewater management could interact better with tribal and state regulations and whether potential federal laws could enable wider discharge of the treated produced water. The EPA is keen to collaborate with regulatory authorities at state levels and manage the complex water-allocation programs according to state laws.
The main way of disposing produced water is the use of wells; these disposal wells are under Safe Drinking Water Act regulations. Some produced waters have been used for enhanced oil recovery or recharging aquifers. Some waters are managed on the field using seepage pits and evaporation ponds. The idea is to recycle and reuse the produced waters from oil-and-gas extractions; for this, some treatment is needed to make the water suitable for reusing in fracking. Another management approach is to use produced water for deicing and dust suppression purposes.
Only in some limited instances is the water being used for irrigation purposes. This has been mainly happening in California where it is being used for growing crops, even those which humans consume. Another option for managing wastewater off-site is transferring it to another municipality or industry for use. While this off-site transfer is yet to become popular, the practice has been carried out to a CWT facility in Marcellus Shale-producing places like Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
To sum up, most of the wastewater has been managed by arranging for its disposal through underground injection. This water then can no longer be used or accessed. However, underground injection is not feasible in many areas which have prompted a rethinking of approaches. Stakeholders and states are therefore asking whether it is wise to waste it, especially in places where water is scarce. The afore-mentioned uses of wastewater are some ways in which it can be treated and renewed for other purposes.