Hydraulic fracturing technology (fracking), coupled with horizontal drilling, has facilitated exploitation of huge natural gas (gas) reserves in the Devonian-age Marcellus Shale Formation (Marcellus) of the Appalachian Basin. The most-efficient technique for stimulating Marcellus gas production involves hydraulic fracturing (injection of a water-based fluid and sand mixture) along a horizontal well bore to create a series of hydraulic fractures in the Marcellus. The hydraulic fractures free the shale-trapped gas, allowing it to flow to the well bore where it is conveyed to pipelines for transport and distribution. The hydraulic fracturing process has two significant effects on the local environment. First, water withdrawals from local sources compete with the water requirements of ecosystems, domestic and recreational users, and/or agricultural and industrial uses. Second, when the injection phase is over, 10 to 30% of the injected water returns to the surface. This water consists of flowback, which occurs between the completion of fracturing and gas production, and produced water, which occurs during gas production. Collectively referred to as returned frac water (RFW), it is highly saline with varying amounts of organic contamination. It can be disposed of, either by injection into an approved underground injection well, or treated to remove contaminants so that the water meets the requirements of either surface release or recycle use. Depending on the characteristics of the RFW and the availability of satisfactory disposal alternatives, disposal can impose serious costs to the operator. In any case, large quantities of water must be transported to and from well locations, contributing to wear and tear on local roadways that were not designed to handle the heavy loads and increased traffic. The search for a way to mitigate the situation and improve the overall efficiency of shale gas production suggested a treatment method that would allow RFW to be used as make-up water for successive fracs. RFW, however, contains dissolved salts, suspended sediment and oils that may interfere with fracking fluids and/or clog fractures. This would lead to impaired well productivity. The major technical constraints to recycling RFW involves: identification of its composition, determination of industry standards for make-up water, and development of techniques to treat RFW to acceptable levels. If large scale RFW recycling becomes feasible, the industry will realize lower transportation and disposal costs, environmental conflicts, and risks of interruption in well development schedules.

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Published on 01/01/2012

Volume 2012, 2012
DOI: 10.2172/1054519
Licence: CC BY-NC-SA license

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