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Technology offers frac-water reuse solution

03rd April 2012

US company believes question marks over the safe and effective disposal of waste water from hydraulic fracking could be lifted with the advent of its new tried and tested technology

Water is too precious a resource to waste

New York-based clean technology company, R3 Fusion Inc, has developed a product they believe could combat problems associated with flowback water generated from hydraulic fracking.

Its so-called SPaCeR™ (short path condensate recovery) technology works by recycling the water used in fracking at an on-site water recovery and reuse facility.

If successful, the company believes the treated water can be reused by companies drilling for natural gas; be legally discharged into surface water systems; used for agriculture, or discharged to municipal treatment.

Unconventional gas reserves in shale deposits have extended the fossil fuel reserves available to the US and could play a critical part in the energy mix. Supporters of the resource believe it has the potential to benefit both national security and the economy.

However, there is currently a hold on natural gas development in New York because the technique now used to access the gas has not yet proven it is 100 per cent environmentally safe. There are also question marks over the safe and efficient disposal of water used and produced in the process.

Up to 2m gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals must be injected into a well during fracking to break up rock thousands of feet underground and release trapped natural gas.  About 40 per cent of the water returns to the surface and must be disposed of as a hazardous waste.

With potentially 500 wells to be drilled in New York annually this adds up to nearly 1bn gallons of water to be sourced, injected and treated, according to F3 Fusion.

Due to the range of potential contaminants and the high volumes involved, water from fracking cannot normally be sent to municipal waste water treatment systems. This water is normally drained into ponds and then trucked to a treatment facility which is expensive and a source of friction with local residents and municipalities whose roads are not suited to such traffic.

Dr. Roshan Jachuck, R3 Fusion’s President and CTO, said this challenge “highlights the critical nexus and interdependence of water and energy”.

“By offering a solution to a major environmental concern, one of the largest domestic energy resources may become accessible. The ability of our technology to significantly impact the purification, reuse, recycling, remediation, and desalination of a wide range of water sources is exciting”, he added.

The system is capable of high volume, energy efficient separation of pure water from a wide range of fluids including briny solutions, industrial waste streams, frac water, completion fluids in oil and gas drilling, and many others, according to F3 Fusion.

Another benefit is it does not require chemicals or membranes to achieve water separation and has already been scaled to a commercial level. Highly contaminated fluids with up to 80,000 ppm total dissolved solids have been purified using the SPaCeR™ technology.

The concept is not new however. R3 Fusion is one of dozens of new companies flooding the market in an attempt to make the most of this precious resource. H.E.D. Environmental Systems, for example, since 2009 has pioneered a fluid processing technology designed to manage produced water and/or contaminated fluids on-site. Another company, Ecosphere Technologies Inc. claims to be one of the dominant providers of water treatment for the shale-gas industry.