The Mysterious Case of The Flowback Fluid

Where does natural gas flowback fluid from hydraulic fracturing go once it reaches the surface of the earth? Is it dumped in lakes and rivers? Definitely not.  Is it evaporated in open pits?  Not anymore.  Is it injected into highly regulated, deep disposal wells.   Yes, some operators do use this method.  However,  Operators, by and large, are choosing to use the method of the future and that which is required by all Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) member companies more often than not in our region. What method is that?  The 100 percent recycling and reuse of flowback fluid at other hydraulic fracturing jobs.

Reducing Impacts by Recycling Water

Range Resources Corp. announced today that it is now recycling all of the waste water produced by its natural gas drilling operations. … “Range’s recycling program is helping to eliminate wastewater, lower drilling costs, reduce consumptive water needs by 25 percent, and lessen local truck traffic,” said Jeff Ventura, Range’s president and chief operating officer, in a statement. … Recycling won’t be the only long-term water treatment option in reducing waste water from drilling, but it will play a significant role, Ventura added. – Pittsburgh Tribune

As technology and time progresses, new and more efficient practices are coming into play regarding hydraulic fracturing.  It’s been around since Halliburton first developed the process over 60 years ago, yet with technological advances continuing to improve the methods and best practices, it’s not your old hydraulic fracturing process. Everyday, the many engineers, scientists and other experts working in the natural gas industry progress to make this the safest and most economically sound process.

On my latest tour with Cabot Oil and Gas I had the opportunity to see the Comtech Facility, which is the heart of their closed loop water management and recycling system.  Comtech is Cabot’s flowback fluid recycling center, and it is truly a game changer as it takes the place of the open pits that were once used to evaporate the water out of the flowback fluid.

During the hydraulic fracturing process between 5 million and 6 million gallons of water are used along with additives such as friction reducers and sand (Keep in mind 99.5% of the fracturing fluid is water and sand).  Once the hydraulic fracturing process is completed between 20 – 30 percent of the original water used flows back to the surface where it is instantly stored in steel containment tanks.  This fluid is then taken to the Comtech facility where it is out through a chemical precipitation process and used at another hydraulic fracturing site.

Here is another great video explaining this process.

What Happens to the Solids?

Comtech Facility

Comtech Facility

All of the solids coming back up within the flowback fluid are all naturally occurring compounds.  Once the water is precipitated out, the solids are put through a high pressure compactor where they form a hard clay like block.  In Pennsylvania, the solids are then sent to a landfill; however, in many parts of the country farmers use it to fertilize their farmland. The operator in the above video told me, “Its like giving your land vitamins.”

The workers at the Comtech facility wear hard hats, goggles and latex gloves because the only thing they are worried about are slips, trips, and falls in the workplace.  None of the flowback fluid or chemicals used in the recycling process require them to wear masks, sensors or HAZMAT suits.

Closed-loop systems and recycling prevent operators from introducing materials into the environment that weren’t previously there.  They are also able to cut down on fresh waster used as well as fuel needed to transport the flowback fluid out of state for disposal.  The Comtech facility has the ability to be broken down within a week and moved to stay in the middle of Cabot’s operations and keep truck traffic and fuel consumption to a minimum.

These new facilities are truly a game changer and will change the way the business is done, minimizing risks by making it safer and more environmentally friendly.

Comments

  1. Carolyn says:

    Anyone that uses flowback to place on their land should be receiving a laboratory analysis of the content. The flowback solids are not in any way healthy for the soil. The industry is deceiving the landowners and once again not telling them the complete truth. I would like to see the research done to show that it is actually a “fertilizer”. Who ate the products harvested from those fields? If you think the flowback solids are “vitamins” why don’t you put them in gel capsules and sell them to EID members? I would think you would be ale to make a profit on that endeavor. I am tired of your deception do you really think we will continue to believe such lunacy?

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      There is not a single fact in this mini-tirade, Carolyn.

    • Edward Balsly says:

      I believe that a complete analysis of the solids would reveal lots of Calcium Cloride (salt) which occurs naturally in the soil. This might not hurt soils used for crops but I’n not sure it would actually help. The silica from the sand would not hurt the soil. We dispose of the solids in landfills along with residential waste. I do believe that the technology used by Range (and now CHK) is the best way to go.

  2. FrankS Blank says:

    “Operators, by and large, are choosing to use the method of the future and that which is required by all Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) member companies more often than not in our region”

    In other words, some, not all are using a method which is required by the MSC some of the time.

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      Not all companies are members of the MSC.

  3. Monica says:

    If the solids can be used in other states, why aren’t they shipped to other states for use?

  4. Bryant La Tourette says:

    Great Article Joe and EID!
    It is great to see and read about the embracing of evolving innovations.

  5. fred jones says:

    Lets be a little more thorough here EID before we tout this stuff as some soil vitamin. Personally, if I had any clue about where land farming was going on and I could trace my food supply back to the farms spreading these “vitamins” on their fields……..I would NOT feed it to my family. While it may be “safe” when done right and safe is a subjective word when it comes to HVHF proponents as if they have some crystal ball that sees into the future, the regulations that oversee land farming are slim to none and self policing with big industry can be a sketchy practice. There are toxins in these cuttings that are not removed by the process the author states and if a field is laden over and over again, it builds up and ends up in the food chain.

    http://www.fwweekly.com/2010/05/12/tilling-in-toxins/

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      I believe everything is removed and that’s the point. Hopefully, some other folks can provide more amplification on this issue.

    • Ourland says:

      Fred do you trace your bright orange,scarless fruit and vegetables to point of origin?
      Do you request health reports from the workforce of migrant s that pick your food,
      or grind your meat? Or is this some new kick your on because you want to defend coal
      over harvesting American Natural Gas. Please tell me what energy should we use today that will handle the demand at a competitive price that does not involve hydrocarbons at all?

      • fred jones says:

        OL……..let’s stick to the subject. And to answer your off-subject plethora questions…..no. I leave that up to the Gov agencies who oversea the ag business and I think they do a pretty good job, BTW. My concern here and I’ll say it again so you can understand……..is the LACK OF oversight and how much of these “vitamins” are spread on a field to the point of saturation and bulid up of toxins. Heck…..even Tom has concerns by his post.

        Coal? Again……..stay on the subject and stop immersing your (not you’re) self in conjecture on what my “kick” is. Good grief.

  6. Al Sever says:

    Everyone is ignoring a basic fact–this is treatment for treatment’s sake. There is no environmental valid reason why this wastewater can not be treated and discharged into waterways.

    Salt is a fact of life. The ONLY industry in Pennsylvania that is not allowed to discharge high TDS wastewater is the Marcellus Gas industry. Similar wastewater from other formations is allowed to be discharged. So is high TDS wastewater from food Industries–chgeck our Kosher meat operations if you want to see salty water going into our streams.. Landfills , chemical plants, coal mines, and pharmacueticals all discharge high TDS wastewater with out problems.

    The only reason that PA DEP requires Marcellus Shale operations to recycle is to protect the coal industry which needs all of the assimilative capacity in streams for it’s wastewater with no reserve for other industries.

    Waste of money to treat this wastewater.

  7. Ajayvarma.G says:

    What if Hydraulic frac fluid enters in to the process system. What are the effects of frac fluid on process system. Does it show any impact on Interface levels and BS&W, Water quality??

Trackbacks

  1. […] Where does natural gas flowback fluid from hydraulic fracturing go once it reaches the surface of the earth? Is it dumped in lakes and rivers? Definitely not.  Is it evaporated in open pits?  Not anymore.  Is it injected into highly regulated, deep disposal wells.   Yes, some operators do use this method.  However,  Operators, by and large, are choosing to use the method of the future and that which is required by all Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) member companies more often than not in our region. What method is that?  The 100 percent recycling and reuse of flowback fluid at other hydraulic fracturing jobs. […]

  2. […] drilling in Pennsylvania like Range Resources and Cabot Oil & Gas (see video below) have been recycling 100% of their water for several years.  This isn’t a secret…it’s been happening for some time.  It’s a shame if a large part of […]

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