New System Treats Natural Gas "Frac" Water

A New Mexico company has begun operating a new water purification system that can remove salts and other contaminants from “frac” water used in gas well drilling ...

A New Mexico company has begun operating a new water purification system that can remove salts and other contaminants from “frac” water used in gas well drilling, allowing the water to be used repeatedly and then discharged to a local river or stream.

The new “frac” technology being used to access gas reserves in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania requires up to two million gallons of water per well to be injected into the ground at tremendous pressure. When that water flows back to the surface, it returns with high amounts of total dissolved solids, or naturally occurring salts that dissolve in frac water, and must be disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. To date, this dirty salty water has been trucked off-site to commercial and municipal sewer treatment plants.

The new water treatment unit, built by Altela Inc. of Albuquerque, started purifying water recently at a well head operated by BLX Inc., a natural gas producer in western Pennsylvania. The mobile AltelaRain® system is 45 feet long and 8 feet wide – similar in size to a semi-tractor trailer. It is continuously converting the brackish frac water into water that is less than 50 mg/liter in salt concentration.

“Altela’s new technology has created a unique opportunity for PA’s shale-gas industry to beneficially re-use and expand water supplies. The natural gas industry can now become a key element of environmental sustainability and stewardship here in the northeastern Unites States,” said Stan Berdell, President of BLX.

Altela has patented its new desalination process. The innovation that allows the process to be so economical is centered around its non-pressurized technology, for which it can use inexpensive plastics, rather than corrodible metal, to purify brackish waters.

Its recent success in the Marcellus builds upon the company’s prior installations in the western United States and Canada, including receiving the first-ever water discharge regulatory permit to place treated oil-field water directly into the most pristine reach of the Colorado River.

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