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Sara Brumfield, Athens Messenger November 8, 2012
Ohio University's Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment has been awarded more than $2 million in state and federal grants to support research to clean the wastewater that results from hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," on site.
The money will help fund research that will aim to clean pollutants from water used in the fracking process so it can be reused in the drilling industry, thus lessening the need for injection wells.
The funds are coming from the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America and from the Ohio Third Frontier.
According to a news release from OU, the research partnership is a non-profit corporation established to help meet the nation's growing need for the hydrocarbon resources produced from American reservoirs. It awarded more than $1.9 million for the OU institute's project, "Cost-Effective Treatment of Flowback and Produced Water via an Integrated Precipitative Supercritical Process."
The Ohio Third Frontier provided $50,000 in project funding, which received a match from both the Russ College and the Ohio University Office of Technology Transfer for a total of $100,000.
The OU institute is a research center at the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology.
"We've staked out our ground as a major resource for studying the effects of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing," said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin. "This research is a great example of socially responsible engineering with long-term impact for our region and far beyond."
In the project, OU researchers, led by Associate Director of the Ohio Coal Research Center Jason Trembly, are teaming with Hess Corporation; Aquionics, which specializes in ultraviolet light treatment of water; Parker Hannifin and the Ohio Gas Association to develop, demonstrate and commercialize a flowback/produced-water management process.
Trembly, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Russ College, said the technology is a win-win for everyone.
"It eliminates the extra cost for transporting the water and also eliminates the need for disposal sites, which addresses concerns about wastewater wells," he said. Trembly added that the objective of the project is to develop a commercial-ready process capable of treating flowback and produced water onsite at the oil/gas well with no operational disruptions.
The process uses technologies similar to those deployed at power plants and in refining industries. In the first, low-pressure portion of the process, UV and water softening technologies used in municipal wastewater treatment remediate bacteria in the water and remove hard water ions.
Then, via a pump, high-pressure wastewater is treated in a reactor powered by gas from the well. This process transforms the water into a supercritical state, where at very high pressures and at a very high temperature, the water takes on properties of both a liquid and a gas. The contaminants, salt and hydrocarbons, either precipitate out as solids or gasify into hydrogen, leaving only clean water. The salt can then be used for a variety of applications such as road de-icing, and the hydrogen is returned to the process to heat the reactor.
According to Trembly, one of the objectives of the project is to create the clean water to be reused in subsequent hydraulic fracturing activities.
"Reusing the water product within the shale field has several benefits, including reducing the water ... withdrawn from local watersheds and reducing truck traffic associated with the transportation of flowback and produced water to injection well sites," Trembly wrote in an email to The Messenger.
When asked if the project could eliminate the need for injection wells to house fracking wastewater, Trembly wrote, "While I cannot state the technology will eliminate the need for injection wells, if developed the technology has the potential to significantly reduce the volume of flowback and produced water which is currently disposed (of) in injection wells, as it will provide oil/gas well operators a much lower-cost option than transporting the water to an injection well."
In addition, Trembly said the process will decrease the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the surrounding environment and reduce developers' hydraulic fracturing costs.
Over the next 24 months, the OU institute team will construct and operate a fully integrated prototype process capable of treating a barrel per day of flowback water. Data will be used to develop a detailed design for a commercial-scale unit and to further demonstrate the advantages of the process.
Christiane Schmenk, director of the Ohio Department of Development and chairwoman of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, said the funding helps put Ohio at the forefront of new technology.
"These investments in Ohio's tech-based economy are critical to the growth of new technologies, ideas, and talent that make Ohio a leader in innovation," Schmenk said. "We are ensuring life-changing technology is supported while creating key industry jobs for Ohioans."
Messenger staff journalist Sara Brumfield contributed to this article.
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @SaraBmessenger.