Bulletin Board

July 15, 2015

Identifying a well water odor source and treating flowback water

On May 6, 2015, Bulletin Board user thomaseckhoff posted this question, "The (well) water from my kitchen sink has a fuel oil odor. I had it tested for VOCs by a certified lab, [and] all protocols were followed. The report came back not detec ted (ND) for all constituents. Does anyone have any suggestions?"

Several respondents’ advice is below:

I remember reading this (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/DrinkingWater/documents/symptoms/SmellsFuelOil.pdf) a while back. I would have an iron bacteria test done if you haven't already. Also if you have a test done and get the results, "200" is considered low. Anything below that should not be an issue.

Is this a "new" house? Did the well sit idle for a while? Are you noticing this smell in all the taps?

— not_an_expert, May 8, 2015

I have seen this exact issue on several occasions. It can be a bit challenging to find the problem, but it is fixable. First, I would check for iron, manganese and heterotrophic plate count (HPC). That will not always give the full answer but would lead in the right direction. If the HPC is high, I would then dig deeper and check [for] iron-related bacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria. They could also be tested on the first test if you want to save time. 

All of the above seem to have potential of being present in a case like this but not always. 

Likely, it will require chlorine injection, proper retention time and, lastly, follow with a carbon filter. The carbon filter I have found to have beneficial results in this case not only for chlorine removal, but [it] also seems to help with [removing] the smell completely. Some people also try approaching this with carbon only. That should also fix the problem, but might have reduced life.

— SamLapp, May 8, 2015

It is an older house. Yes, [the] smell is noticed from all internal faucets. I will follow up on the bacteria testing. Many thanks.

— thomaseckhoff, May 8, 2015

You can also look for evidence of iron and/or sulfate-reducing bacteria in the back of your toilet tank. Iron bacteria [are] usually reddish brown in color and sulfate is more of a black color.  If you see anything growing, this would be a good indication that you have a problem. You can then test to see how significant the problem is.

— mariannemetz, May 11, 2015

Removing sodium from hydraulic fracturing flowback

On Feb. 23, 2015, Laurence DAlberti asked about his customer who is engaged in hydraulic fracturing [fracking] operations: My customer is fracking oil and gas deposits in Alberta, Canada. Water is used to [fracture] the rock to release trapped oil and gas. The spent fracking waters are collected, and they want to reuse them. They [contact lime], so sodium levels are around 55,000 parts per million.

What is the best way to remove sodium from a five percent brine solution?


The ionic and organic content of typical flowback water makes it difficult to treat. [A] five percent brine is stronger than seawater, so the only way to remove sodium at that level is high-pressure reverse osmosis or evaporation. Both are expensive and maintenance/operationally expensive on this type [of] application. This is why most well drillers collect flowback water, filter it and try to reuse it on the next [fracking] job. 

— dfrench

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