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Can Fracking Water be Reused? Chromatography Explores

Jun 09 2015 Read 2823 Times

The pursuit of natural resources leads mankind to develop new techniques to get at inaccessible natural resources or energy sources. Along with nuclear power, fracking is seen as one of the most contentious ways of contributing to energy generation.

Fracking causes headlines for two main reasons. It has destabilised the traditional oil market leading to cheap oil, and fracking concerns environmentalists; both because it increases the use of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, and because of the environmental impact associated with fracking.

But what if we could reduce the environmental impact? Chromatography has helped a team investigate one aspect of fracking’s environmental impact, which might help fracking companies clean up their image in the media.

Precious Natural Resource

One of the main concerns about fracking is the contamination of another precious natural resource — water. To release the hydrocarbons from the rocks large volumes of water, with additional chemicals, are pumped under high pressure into the strata underground. This causes the pores and fissures in the rocks to open up and any oil and gas is released — allowing it to be collected from the well. The water used in the process returns to the surface as wastewater and has to be disposed of. This leads to one of the main environmental concerns about the fracking process — the contamination of drinking water as discussed in Chromatography Analytics Discovers Fracking Fluids in Pennsylvania Well Water.

The disposal of the wastewater is a major problem for the fracking companies and the original method of disposal in old wells is becoming less acceptable both from the regulatory bodies and the public. More sustainable solutions are needed — which will ease the concerns of everyone and might also lead to reduced costs for the fracking industry. But what is in the water? That’s where chromatography can help.

What’s in the Water?

Before any fracking wastewater can be treated and reused we need to know what is in it, a recent article in Science of The Total EnvironmentCharacterization of hydraulic fracturing flowback water in Colorado: Implications for water treatment — starts to address this issue.

Wastewater from an area known as the Denver-Julesberg basin was sampled and analysed. The team used several forms of chromatography to analyse the water: ion chromatography (IC) for fatty acids and inorganic anions and gas chromatography linked to mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to determine volatile organic compounds.

Because the water and additives are injected under pressure and might react with compounds already in the strata — advanced liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry was used to detect possible unknowns.

The paper reports that the wastewater contained additives from the fracking water and other products due to additive breakdown and reaction including: salts, metals and organic matter.

The team will next study the quality of wastewater at different stages of a wells lifetime. This is the first step in a long process to assess the best method to sustainably deal with fracking wastewater — and possibly improve fracking’s media image.

Image Source: Fracking Waste
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Chromatography Today - March 2018 Volume 11 Issue 1

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