Processing Magazine

Southern Research Institute to develop fracking wastewater treatment technology

July 25, 2013


Southern Research Institute and the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) have started a joint project to develop methods and technologies aimed at improving shale gas hydraulic fracturing water treatment.

The contract between the two parties was signed under the U.S. Unconventional Resources Program and the project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Research and Development Program, which was established through the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

The main purpose of the agreement is to ensure that fracking wastewater meets the standards set in the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

Kent Perry, RPSEA vice president of onshore programs, commented that the focus of the Unconventional Resources Program is on research that can add to the ability of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing industry to produce natural gas in a way that is both safe and environmentally friendly.

The contract is for two years and during that time researchers will work on developing technologies that provide solutions to problems related to various processes and methods for handling and disposal of large volumes of hydraulic fracturing flow-back water. The project will also address issues associated with water produced during the longer term production phase.

According to Southern Research Institute, the project will optimize four core technologies. Two of them focus on hydraulic fracturing water treatment, while the remaining two are directed at the treatment and disposal of residues, such as solid slurry and membrane concentrate, from hydraulic fracturing water treatment.

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Robert Dahlin, principle investigator and director of Southern Research Institute's Power Systems and Environmental Research Center in Birmingham, Ala., said that while working on the optimization of these technologies, researchers will seek to reduce the economic and environmental problems linked with shale gas production. If they manage to achieve this, the outcome will be a game-changer for the U.S. energy security and sustainability, he noted.

The official statement by Southern Research Institute noted that the hydraulic fracturing water treatment technologies are "magnetic ballast clarification for removal of total suspended solids (TSS), metals, and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMS), and vortex-generating and nano-filtration membranes for removal of TSS and/or total dissolved solids." It also explained that the residue treatment/disposal technologies fall into several types -- hydrogel adsorbent for metals, NORMs, trace element removal and precipitation, solidification and stabilization. It is possible that these technologies could be put together in various combinations and this will be explored during the research, the statement also pointed out.

Southern Research Institute announced that it was interested in collaborating with more oil and gas industry representatives, hoping that it will be able to further demonstrate, commercialize and utilize the technology.