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Hydraulic fracturing in Michigan examined in new U-M reports

In early September, University of Michigan (U-M) researchers released seven technical reports that together form the most comprehensive Michigan-focused resource on hydraulic fracturing.

The studies, totaling nearly 200 pages, examine a wide variety of environmental and ecological topics related to the use of hydraulic fracturing in Michigan, as well as six other areas including public health, geology and hydrogeology, technology, policy and law, economics, and public perceptions.

While considerable natural gas reserves are believed to exist in the state and high-volume hydraulic fracturing has the potential to help access them, possible impacts to the environment and to public health must be addressed, the U-M researchers concluded.

"There's a lot of interest in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but there really isn't much activity at the moment in Michigan," said John Callewaert, project director and director of integrated assessment at U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, which is overseeing the project. "That's why now is a good time to do this assessment."

Since the late 1940s, an estimated 12,000 gas and oil wells have been drilled in Michigan using hydraulic fracturing without any reported contamination issues. Most of those wells have been relatively shallow vertical wells that each used about 50,000 gallons of water.

Recently, however, a small number of deep, directionally-drilled, high-volume, hydraulically- fractured wells have been completed in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. Those wells sometimes use several million gallons of water, and one Michigan well required more than 20 million gallons.

The U-M hydraulic fracturing study is expected to cost at least $600,000 and is being funded by U-M through its Graham Sustainability Institute, Energy Institute and Risk Science Center. State regulators, oil and gas industry representatives, staffers from environmental nonprofits, and peer reviewers provided input to the technical reports, and more than 100 public comments were considered.

Membrane distillation process proves successful for fracking wastewater

A vapor compressor-driven membrane distillation (MD) system designed to help reuse water in the hydraulic fracturing process has operated continuously for 200 hours at a Texas-based commercial disposal well.

A joint demonstration project from GE Power & Water and Germany-based memsys has reportedly demonstrated that MD combined with vapor compression can handle the high-salinity produced waters associated with unconventional gas exploration and production.

Results reported from the two partners included: 100-percent process uptime without any noticeable decline in performance or need for cleaning; stable performance with brine concentrations near saturation; lower energy consumption compared to conventional technology; and high distillate quality.

It was in 2012 when GE and memsys partnered to develop MD technology for the fast-growing unconventional resources marketplace, including shale gas, coal seam gas and other unconventional fuels recovered by hydraulic fracturing.

Under the terms of the agreement, GE will invest in testing the technology and in return receive an exclusive license for the use of the technology in these applications. Further, memsys will subsequently increase the production volume for its modules eight-fold --a sufficient increase for the installation of up to 50,000 m3 of daily water treatment capacity annually.

"As the cost of brine concentration comes down, it will enable more sustainable treatment options compared to trucking and deep well disposal," said Bill Heins, general manager, thermal products – water and process technologies for GE Power & Water.

Study finds produced water disinfection can lead to toxic byproducts

According to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), elevated levels of toxic chemicals known as brominated disinfection byproduct are being discharged from wastewater treatment plants that process waters from oil and gas development.

Disinfection byproducts are created by chemical reactions when water is disinfected. Of the hundreds of known and suspected byproducts potentially created by disinfection processes, the brominated forms are among the most toxic.

The study examined river water samples downstream from the discharges of publicly-owned and commercial wastewater treatment plants that were processing produced waters with high levels of naturally-occurring bromide. These samples were compared with water just upstream of the plants and with samples from wastewater treatment plants that did not process produced waters from oil and gas development.

The water was examined for 29 different disinfection byproducts, including brominated and non-brominated disinfection byproducts. The brominated disinfection byproducts were detected more frequently and at much higher levels in river water impacted by disinfected produced waters than at other sites.

"While these findings do not indicate an immediate threat to aquatic life or human health, the study provides new data on the water quality of streams receiving discharged wastewater that can be used to inform decisions about management and treatment of produced waters," said Michelle Hladik, primary author of the report.

Contaminated U.S. brownfield sites to be cleaned up, redeveloped by EPA

Across the nation, there are several brownfield sites --unused industrial land --that are being considered for reuse. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced approximately $15 million in supplemental funding to help clean up contaminated brownfields properties. Further, the Revolving Loan Funding (RLF) will help 41 communities carry out cleanup and redevelopment projects that will help communities create jobs while protecting public health and the environment.

"These funds --granted to communities who have already achieved success in their work to clean up and redevelop brownfields --will help boost local economies, create local jobs and protect people from harmful pollution by expediting brownfield projects," said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. "The RLF supplemental recipients are some of the nation's top performers. Collectively, these communities have already leveraged more than $2.5 billion in cleanup and redevelopment investment." Revolving loan funds specifically supply funding for grant recipients to provide loans and sub-grants to carry out cleanup activities at brownfield sites. When these loans are repaid, the loan amount is then returned to the fund and sub-granted or re-loaned to other borrowers, providing an ongoing source of capital within a community for additional cleanup of brownfield sites. The supplemental grants range in funding from about $200,000 to $400,000 with an average grant award of $300,000.

There are an estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated sites in the United States. EPA's brownfields program targets these sites to encourage redevelopment and help to provide the opportunity for productive community use of contaminated properties. The investments overall have leveraged more than $20 billion in cleanup and redevelopment funding from public and private sources, and on average, $17.79 is leveraged for every EPA brownfields grant dollar spent.

Industrial wastewater effluent mandates spur demand for ion exchange resins

According to a report by Global Industry Analysts Inc., the global market for ion exchange resins (IERs) is projected to reach $1.7 billion by 2018, driven by rising population, expanding application areas and stricter mandates for industrial wastewater effluent discharge.

IERs have been in use for a long time, particularly in water separation, decontamination, water softening, and decalcification. Against the backdrop of growing population and an increase in industrial and environmental pollution, IERs have grown more common in the water treatment process. Even though the market faces competition from membrane separation technologies, such as reverse osmosis (RO), the market for ion exchange resins is projected to fare well over the coming years, with usage of IERs as cations in water softening continuing to be the largest end-use application.

Ion exchange resins are primarily used in decontamination of surface and groundwater, industrial mining of metals and biodiesel production. Segment-wise, power generation represents the largest end-use application for ion exchange resins, while drinking water and wastewater treatment, with a CAGR of 5.2 percent, represent the fastest growing segments. Owing to their chemical stability, ion exchange resins face increasing adoption from new application areas such as biofuels, spectrometry, pharmaceutical, chromatography, and electronics sectors.

Report reveals missed opportunities to conserve water, energy

According to a report by Water in the West, a research center at Stanford University, water and wastewater managers are missing substantial opportunities to save energy and money. The report, "Water and Energy Nexus: A Literature Review," also identifies the amount of water used to extract resources such as natural gas, oil and coal, and to generate electricity.

The report finds "robust opportunities for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as for the conservation of scarce water resources, coupled with the potential for generating significant new renewable energy resources," according to co-author Cynthia Truelove, a visiting scholar with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Further, the report includes a comprehensive survey of publications by the academic, government and nonprofit sectors between 1990 and 2013 that analyzes policy, along with scientific and technical research, on the connections between water and energy.

"This report summarizes the tremendous breadth and depth of research and analysis that have explored the interrelationship between water and energy," said Andrew Fahlund, executive director of Water in the West. "Nevertheless, it also points out a number of significant gaps in our understanding of the nexus of water and energy and points to important needs for future study."

The report is organized in two sections: "Energy for Water," which explores energy used by the water and wastewater sectors; and "Water for Energy," which documents water used to generate different forms of energy. It adopts a full life-cycle approach to show the integral relationship between water and energy.

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