Water Briefs

Aug. 27, 2013
A new study of 100 private water wells in and near the Barnett Shale showed elevated levels of potential contaminants such as arsenic and selenium closest to natural gas extraction sites ...

Study: Potential Well Water Contaminants Highest Near Natural Gas Drilling

A new study of 100 private water wells in and near the Barnett Shale showed elevated levels of potential contaminants such as arsenic and selenium closest to natural gas extraction sites, according to a team of researchers that was led by UT Arlington Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Kevin Schug.

The results of the North Texas well study were recently published online by the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The peer-reviewed paper focuses on the presence of metals such as arsenic, barium, selenium, and strontium in water samples. Many of these heavy metals occur naturally at low levels in groundwater, but disturbances from natural gas extraction activities could cause them to occur at elevated levels.

"This study alone can't conclusively identify the exact causes of elevated levels of contaminants in areas near natural gas drilling, but it does provide a powerful argument for continued research," said Brian Fontenot, a UT Arlington graduate with a doctorate in quantitative biology and lead author of the paper.

He added, "We expect this to be the first of multiple projects that will ultimately help the scientific community, the natural gas industry and most importantly, the public understand the effects of natural gas drilling on water quality."

Researchers believe the increased presence of metals could be due to a variety of factors including industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings; mechanical vibrations from natural gas drilling activity disturbing particles in neglected water well equipment; or the lowering of water tables through drought or the removal of water used for the hydraulic fracturing process. Any of these scenarios could release dangerous compounds into shallow groundwater.

New Partnership to Develop Technologies for Treating Frack Water

A new contract has been announced between the Southern Research Institute and the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) to develop and demonstrate the performance of technologies that will advance shale gas hydraulic fracturing water treatment in order to produce National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) quality water.

The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Research and Development Program established through the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The two-year project will develop advanced technologies that address issues related to processes and methods for the handling and disposal of large volumes of hydraulic fracturing flowback water, as well as water produced during the longer-term production phase. The program will optimize four technologies: two for hydraulic fracturing water treatment and two for the treatment and disposal of residues (high solid slurry and membrane concentrate) from the purification process.

The hydraulic fracturing water treatment technologies include magnetic ballast clarification for the removal of total suspended solids (TSS); metals and naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORMS); and vortex-generating and nanofiltration membranes for the removal of TSS and/or total dissolved solids. The residue treatment/disposal technologies are hydrogel adsorbent for metals, NORMs, trace element removal, precipitation, solidification, and stabilization. Several combinations of the technologies can be envisioned and will be explored as part of this research project.

The program will be managed and executed by teams from Southern Research's Advanced Energy & Transportation Technologies Center in Durham, N.C., as well as the PSER operations in Birmingham, Ala., and Cartersville, Ga. Southern Research also teamed with partners from M2 Water Treatment, Inc., in Raleigh, N.C., and BKT United in Anaheim, Calif., to conduct this work. Southern Research is interested in partnering with additional oil and gas industry leaders to further demonstrate, commercialize and deploy the technology.

CA Court Requires State to Enact Drinking Water Standards for Chromium-6

The California Superior Court of Alameda is requiring the state's Department of Public Health to proceed with setting a standard to protect millions of Californians from unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical, in drinking water.

Hexavalent chromium enters the drinking water supply via runoff from industrial operations into surface waters or by leaching from soil into groundwater. Communities adjacent to industrial facilities using the carcinogen or where Superfund sites are located are among those most highly exposed to the pollution.

Analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of official records from the California Department of Public Health's water quality testing conducted between 2000 and 2011 revealed that about one-third of the more than 7,000 drinking water sources sampled were contaminated with hexavalent chromium at levels that exceed safe limits. These water sources are spread throughout 52 of 58 counties, impacting an estimated 31 million Californians.

DPH has until the end of August 2013 to propose a drinking water standard for hexavalent chromium.

EPA to Update Clean Water Act Reporting Processes

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a new rule that would modernize Clean Water Act (CWA) reporting processes for hundreds of thousands of municipalities, industries and other facilities. Under the rule, these organizations would convert to an electronic data reporting system that would make facility-specific information, such as inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results and other data required by permits, accessible to the public through the EPA's website.

Currently, facilities subjected to reporting requirements submit data in paper form to states and other regulatory authorities, where the information must be manually entered into data systems. Through the e-reporting rule, these facilities will electronically report their data directly to the appropriate regulatory authority. EPA expects that the e-reporting rule will lead to more comprehensive and complete data on pollution sources, quicker availability of the data for use, and increased accessibility and transparency of the data to the public.

The Agency estimates that, once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and the Virgin Island Territory authorized to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program will collectively save approximately $29 million each year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.

"In addition to dramatically cutting costs for states and other regulatory authorities, the e-reporting rule will substantially expand transparency by making it easier for everyone to quickly access critical data on pollution that may be affecting communities," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The e-reporting rule will also allow states and other regulatory authorities to focus limited resources on the most serious water quality problems, which will lead to increased compliance, improved water quality and a level playing field for the regulated community."

ASTM Water Subcommittee to Develop Hydraulic Fracturing Standards

New standards for hydraulic fracturing will be developed by an ASTM International subcommittee to be used by contract laboratories, water utilities and other businesses employing the applications of fracking and related processes.

The new subcommittee will establish liaison with Subcommittee D18.26 on Hydraulic Fracturing, part of ASTM International Committee D18 on Soil and Rock, which was formed in 2012. In addition, D19.09 on Water – Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids will work closely with the D19 Executive Section D19.90.04 to continue to coordinate communication with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on fracturing water issues. Subcommittee D19.09 is under the jurisdiction of ASTM International Committee D19 on Water. Standards developed by D19.09 will be used to assess water quality and determine impacts of a spill and possible contamination.

"Hydraulic fracturing is a hot environmental topic that involves a wide array of contaminant analysis, including organic, inorganic and radioisotopes," said Richard Jack, North American environmental marketing manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and a member of D19. "In order to avoid confusion, increase communication and have a focused approach in which we can share information, it was decided to form a subcommittee specifically focused on hydraulic fracturing."

For example, "D19.09 standards can be used by drinking water utilities that want to assess their raw water and determine if increased salts, radioisotopes or metals are present. Of particular concern are increased concentrations of bromide, which can result in the formation of disinfection byproducts during the water purification process," said Jack. "Companies that desalinate fracking waters for reuse will need to determine the concentration of anions, cations and metals."

According to Jack, the subcommittee is currently developing the proposed standard WK40832, Test Method for Measurement of Dissolved Gases Methane, Ethane, Ethylene, and Propane by Static Headspace Sampling and Flame Ionization Detection (GC/FID). All parties interested in developing standards related to hydraulic fracturing water are encouraged to join D19.09.

Canadian oil sands produced water quality to be refined with joint research program

A new joint research and development (R&D) program has been established between IDE Technologies Ltd. and Clean Harbors to increase the reliability and availability of mechanical vapor compression (MVC) evaporators for treating oil sands produced water in Alberta, Canada.

The R&D project will focus on improved operation, service and maintenance capabilities of MVC evaporators by integrating IDE's horizontal evaporator design with Clean Harbors' chemical development and cleaning procedures expertise.

"Treatment of Alberta's oil sands produced water is challenging because of the high scaling and fouling potential, as well as occasional process excursions. MVC evaporators are a critical step in the water treatment process as they provide boiler feedwater quality," said Chris Porter, Clean Harbors' Senior Vice President, Canadian Industrial Services.

IDE's modular horizontal falling film evaporation technology provides a reliable, energy-efficient and cost-effective steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) produced water treatment solution. In addition, the design of the MVC evaporator incorporates an embedded clean-in-place (CIP) system for on-line and off-line internal tube-bundles cleaning (both for descaling and fouling removal).

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