Tue July 16, 2013
Oil and Gas

Recycled Fracking Fluid? CO Companies Look To Ease Water Worries

A fracking boom and a highly productive agriculture sector in Weld County are both competing for water. Right now, one side can afford to pay more.

Grace Hood reports for All Things Considered.

“Energy industry has the ability to purchase water at a much higher rate than agriculture,” said David Stewart, CEO of Stewart Environmental Consultants. “What we can’t do is have that influence of the free market on water and increase water to where we can’t do agriculture.”

"We see recycled water as really the future of horizontal drilling."

A possible solution could come in the form of recycling. The hydraulic fracturing industry is studying and developing technology that would treat fracking wastewater so it can be reused again.

For the first time in Colorado this year, Noble Energy fracked with recycled wastewater. A panel at Northern Colorado Business Report’s Energy Summit discussed the practice earlier Tuesday.

“That is a milestone for Colorado,” said Doug White, vice president of High Sierra Water Services, a company that has developed facilities that can recycle the fracking wastewater. “We see recycled water as really the future of horizontal drilling.”

Here’s how it works. Wastewater is trucked to his company’s treatment plant. Then it’s treated with chemicals, and trucked back to a fracking site for reuse.

There are limitations to how far this practice can go, with one barrier potentially being public opinion.

White says High Sierra would eventually like to release treated fracking water back into Colorado’s surface waters.

“The Colorado Department of Health and Environment, they have very stringent and clear rules and regulations on discharge. So companies would have to receive a discharge permit. And there’s a very stringent process in place that continually samples the water to make sure it meets those specifications,” he said.

That argument likely won’t allay the concerns of environmentalists, who say state and federal regulations don’t go far enough. Perhaps the biggest barrier right now to this practice is cost. It’s cheaper to use new water than recycle it.

Until the industry finds a way to make wastewater recycling less expensive, the debate—and the practice—will likely stay out of the spotlight.

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