By reader bob of upstate New York, which is still frack free and fighting
A story by the Associated Press that tried to do some jusitsu on fracking critics, claiming they were guilty of the same practices they accused the industry of using, namely, using bad science, ironically, it included a pro-fracking example of the same.
While there are many logical inconsistencies within this piece, the one major issue with fracking, waste water, is given a great spin:
An analysis by The Associated Press of data from Pennsylvania found that of the 10.1 million barrels of shale wastewater generated in the last half of 2011, about 97 percent was either recycled, sent to deep-injection wells, or sent to a treatment plant that doesn’t discharge into waterways.
This is artful. Lets start from the beginning of the fracking process. Each well requires between 5-10 million gallons of fresh water (depending on the industry source for the estimate). We’ll give the frackers the benefit of the doubt and go with 5 million gallons of water per well.
They take this 5 million gallons of water and pour it down a newly drilled gas well. Proprietary chemicals are then added to the well at different points in the fracking process to achieve different results. Some of these chemicals are added first, some last, some in between. This is important to note because it makes reusing the “frack fluid” impossible without some sort of treatment. You can’t get the flour back out of a loaf of bread without a lot of work.
When the fracking is completed, about 10% of the water/chemical mixture flows back out of the well according to the industry. They call this “waste water” and more frequently “flow back”. It’s only waste water above ground. If it’s still in the well, it’s benign.
10% of 5 million is 500,000 gallons. The treatment, or disposal wells are not next to the gas well. At a high estimate of 11,000 gallons of water per tanker truck, this means at least 45 tanker trucks full of wastewater to be trucked away after each well is fracked.
They then have to treat or dispose of this ‘waste water’. According to the AP story, this waste water is either recycled, pumped into another well, or sent to a treatment plant. Putting recycling first in the list leaves the impression that this is done frequently. It’s not, and the “recycled” frack fluid cannot be reused without being diluted with more clean water. Let’s look at a story on a state of the art recycling operation in Ohio:
The new system means Chesapeake needs less fresh water to hydraulically fracture, or “frack,” the Utica shale that lies under the eastern half of Ohio, he said. Recycled water will be mixed with fresh water for future fracking operations.
So, the “treated” water still isn’t clean enough to be reused? This plant and process is new, and in one location. The AP fails to mention how much waste water is being ‘recycled’. Deep injection wells account for most of the disposal. A “treatment plant that doesn’t discharge” is called a storage tank. The waste water is still there.
So, from the beginning again. 5 million gallons into the well, 500,000 out. Of that 500,000 gallons per well, the majority will go down another deep injection well. But wait, what about the 4.5 million gallons of waste water left in the gas well? It stays right where it was made, in the well.
Rewriting the AP quote from above, taking all of the above industry sourced numbers into account yields:
Of the 4.2 billion gallons (10.1 million barrels times 10 times 42 gallons per barrel) of clean water that was turned into waste water in the last half of 2011 by the fracking industry in PA, less than 462 million gallons was handled in any way after it was polluted. Of that 462 million gallons of waste water that was handled after drilling, most was simply put down another well without any treatment. A very small portion of that 462 million gallons was treated or recycled.
The current state of the art in treatment and recycling, a plant in Carrollton, OH, can handle 73 million gallons of fracking water a year at full capacity. This is less than 2% of the 4.2 billion gallons of water used by the fracking industry during the last half of 2011 in PA. At 73 million gallons of “recycling” capacity a year, only 8% of the waste water that is discharged from the wells, “flowback”, could be treated at 2011 levels of drilling production. Production is roughly doubling in PA YoY. The water that is treated could then only be used as part of the water required to frack a new well. It is still not clean enough for the industry to use.