Researchers in West Virginia and Kansas want to get a better handle on how best to manage millions of barrels of dangerous wastewater produced across the United States by the natural gas industry.
Kansas University and West Virginia University just announced a joint research effort to identify safe, environmentally responsible management of the wastewater that is a byproduct of natural gas wells.
Researchers from the two universities acquired a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation in part to study the effects of drilling on surface water.
“You have three classes of potential contaminants: salts, organic compounds and some amount of radioactivity mainly in the form of radium,” said one of the lead researcher with the project, director of West Virginia’s Water Research Institute Paul Ziemkiewicz. He says management of wastewater, which the industry refers to as “produced water”, is a growing concern. The Department of Energy estimates 20 million barrels are produced each year.
“A lot of the produced water that was generated over the first wave of Marcellus development was largely being consumed in new well completions, and with the drop in gas prices, well completions have gone down and therefore we have this extra water accumulating,” Ziemkiewicz said. “We need to find a way to dispose of it, treat it, or something else.”
Researchers also hope to develop safe handling and treatment practices of the wastewater, as well as develop ways to avoid earthquakes when disposing wastewater into underground injection wells.