Oil-and-gas Industry May Have New Tool to Treat Trac Water

Posted in: Crisis Response, Fracking, United States Water News, Water Contamination
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An rig drills for oil in South Texas. University of Texas at San Antonio and Southwest Research Institute researchers may have found a new treatment for water than has been contaminated with hydraulic fracturing chemicals. Photo credit: Lyndsey Johnson

Article courtesy of James Aldridge | September 8, 2014 | San Antonio Business Journal | Shared as educational material

San Antonio researchers may have cracked the code on what could be a low-cost, effective method of treating water laced with frac water.

Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Southwest Research Institute have found that biochar, a substance produced from plant matter, is a safe and inexpensive method of treating flowback water during the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process.

Oil-and-gas producers use as much as one million to five million gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to unlock deposits of oil-and-gas from these deep, underground wells. Once this water is used, the wastewater must be treated to remove the hazardous chemicals before the water can be stored, reused or disposed of. Not only is this an expensive way of treating frac water, but in regions of the state where water is scare, the use of fracking can become a contentious issue between oil companies and landowners.

Using biochar could help oil-and-gas companies save money and responsibly treat frac water, according to UTSA officials.

UTSA Mechanical Engineering Professor Zhigang Feng, SwRI senior research engineer Maoqi Feng and UTSA students Steven Cooks, Carlos Mendez, Joshua Moran and Silvia Briseño Murguia spent the past year developing biochar and testing it on various water samples.

Biochar is made from materials like wood chips, paper, leaves, soybean oil, corn oil and other types of agricultural waste and then is heated to high temperatures in an oxygen-deprived environment. The charcoal-like substance absorbs impurities from water like hydrocarbons and other pollutants. The researchers’ next step is to find ways to commercialize it.

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