Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves the use of pressurized and chemically treated water to break up shale in order to harvest deposits of natural gas and/or oil within or underneath the ground. So where does that water go once the job is done?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulations regarding the treatment of mining wastewater so that it doesn’t pollute clean water, especially groundwater and supplies of drinking water for nearby populations. This is where frac water management enters the picture.
How is this wastewater treated? How do mining companies ensure that byproducts of fracking don’t pollute the land, air, and water supply?
Although the practice is a matter of much debate, there are controls in place to protect the public and the environment, and frac water management is a serious and scientific undertaking. Here are a few facts about wastewater management in fracking that everyone should be aware of.
One of the ways in which fracking operations deal with wastewater is to store it safely on-site so that it can be reused for further fracking. After all, why bother removing chemicals in order to make wastewater clean and then injecting chemicals into a fresh water supply when you can simply filter and reuse water that is already imbued with appropriate chemicals?
Recycling frac water for reuse in fracking is in the best interest of not only the environment, but also mining operations looking to cut costs, reduce waste and the need for additional resources, and eliminate unnecessary, time consuming processes. It’s a win-win.
If you paid attention in Earth Science class, way back in grade school, you may recall that the Earth is made up of layers upon layers of rock and other materials that lie between the core and the surface. Within these layers lie deposits of natural gas, oil, and other resources, as well as the ground water supply.
The process of underground injection involves the injection of chemical wastewater from fracking, mining, or other industrial pursuits into porous rock layers far below the water supply, and often with impermeable layers in between. The idea is to place toxic wastewater so far below the surface of the Earth that it will probably never affect humans or the environment.
Treatment and Release
Recycled water can only be reused so many times, and underground injection can be costly. The alternative is wastewater treatment and eventual release of clean water back into bodies of water like lakes and rivers.
This process may be completed by a third party at an off-site facility that wastewater is shipped to, but the more economical option for long-term mining operations involves installing a convenient wastewater treatment facility on-site to process waste and return clean water to the source.