News | December 15, 2009

Carnegie Mellon Team To Study Water Quality From Shale Gas Development

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Carnegie Mellon University's Kelvin Gregory is leading a research team developing a new treatment for cleaning water used in shale-gas production.

Gregory, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and University of Pittsburgh engineering professors Radisav Vidic and Eric Beckman have received a three-year, $1 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop a system to improve the use of hydraulic fracturing by drilling companies.

"The boom in drilling for natural gas across Northern Pennsylvania has created a potential flood for how water is handled safely and responsibly during the drilling process," Gregory said.

A huge supply of natural gas is trapped in the Marcellus Shale layer that runs beneath Northern Pennsylvania. Recent advances in technology — like hydraulic fracturing — have enabled the recovery of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale layer. Hydraulic fracturing is a method many gas development companies use to get gas from geological structures by pumping fluids at high pressure into the ground and fracturing subsurface rock. This water returns to the surface as "flowback" with chemicals that are potentially harmful to the environment.

Because of environmental concerns, Gregory's team is evaluating a holistic approach for the treatment of flowback water, which utilizes Acid Mine Drainage water to remove toxic metals from the water and enables the reuse of hydrofracturing fluids. Reuse of these fluids is expected to greatly minimize the environmental risk from flowback water and reduce the volumes of freshwater withdrawn for hydraulic fracturing.

Already one small rural Pennsylvania town has filed a lawsuit claiming that one drilling company has violated state environmental laws by allowing drilling chemicals to escape from gas wells, where hydraulic fracturing is being used.

"We need to develop a system to minimize the disposal costs for gas producers and make water safe for all users," said Gregory, who is responsible for the development of a new remediation technology based on electrochemical cells.

SOURCE: Carnegie Mellon University

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