Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth Science

Sewage Plants Struggle To Treat Fracking Wastewater 264

Posted by Soulskill
from the who-needs-water-anyway dept.
MTorrice writes "When energy companies extract natural gas trapped deep underground using hydraulic fracturing, they're left with water containing high levels of pollutants, including benzene and barium. Sometimes the gas producers dispose of this fracking wastewater by sending it to treatment plants that deal with sewage and water from other industrial sources. But a new study (abstract) suggests that the plants can't handle this water's high levels of contaminants: Water flowing out of the plants into the environment still has elevated levels of the chemicals from natural gas production."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Sewage Plants Struggle To Treat Fracking Wastewater

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @03:35PM (#43216491)

    ...made Tigh the project lead.

  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @03:37PM (#43216509)

    Ever been to Utah? Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense. Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year. They ought to have them, too. When they canceled the project it almost did me in. One day my mind was full to bursting. The next day - nothing. Swept away. But I showed them. I had a lobotomy in the end. Friend of mine had one. Designer of the neutron bomb. You ever hear of the neutron bomb? Destroys people - leaves buildings standing. Fits in a suitcase. It's so small, no one knows it's there until - BLAMMO. Eyes melt, skin explodes, everybody dead. So immoral, working on the thing can drive you mad. That's what happened to this friend of mine. So he had a lobotomy. Now he's well again.

  • by Applekid (993327) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @03:45PM (#43216589)

    How to be successful:
    * Socialize the risks
    * Privatize the profits

    Even commercial car washes have limits on pollutants they pass forward to water treatment plants. I guess someone just conveniently forgot to include these energy companies.

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      * Socialize the risks
      * Privatize the profits

      very true. Ever asked yourself why are people able to socialise the risks? Think about what it means, to socialise the risks. It means that the property rights are not enforced. It also means that government owns so called "public property" and it doesn't care about it, so this is the huge way for corporations to be able to socialise risks by using "public property" to do business there. There shouldn't be any "public property", it's an oxymoron, but if there is such a thing, then nobody should be allowed t

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Great, now I can buy land, pollute the shit out of it and ruin for future generations. All without a worry for the law.

      • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:27PM (#43217131)

        There shouldn't be any "public property", it's an oxymoron, but if there is such a thing, then nobody should be allowed to profit from it, to do business and use it for business.

        You have a strangely restrictive idea of who should be allowed to have property rights. If the duly elected representatives of the people determine that is prudent to, for example, build a highway, why should they not be able to purchase the land on which to build it and to operate the highway as the think best for their constituents? You see, if the road were privatized, there is a strong possibility that the highway would never be built at all, and that the owner would seek to maximize his own profit rather than promote the welfare of the general population.

        The idea of public property has existed since at least Roman times. To eliminate public property is as much a fantasy as to eliminate private property, and equally misguided.

      • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

        This Libertarian speaks the truth. The courts have so far proved fully adequate at protecting private property and the health of individuals and their livestock when affected by pollution. There is no political derision directed at the concept of externalities, and the harm of externalities can be precisely measured, and the threat of litigation has been an excellent deterrent preventing pollution in the first place, far more effective than legislation and regulation. So there is really no reason why we sho

      • by thoth (7907)

        This rant is a clear example of why libertarian thinking is total bullshit. This just won't work in the real world.

        Forcing corporations to only do business on its own property, and only deal with externalities with immediate neighbors? That might sound great, but it worthless. 3 seconds into this paradise of greedy-self-regulation and all the corporations involved will simply setup off-shore holding companies and do all the dirty work through under-funded contractors. E.g. BP wouldn't drill anymore, their s

      • by Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:57PM (#43217481)

        1. Form corporation named Timebomb.
        2. Timebomb buys land
        3. Timebomb "stores" pollutants in a manner that is safe for a whopping 10 years, charging tiny fees to mother corporation
        4. Neighbors see coming disaster (maybe), but efforts gets tied up in courts
        5. Mother corporation sloughs off Timebomb as independent legal entity
        6. Timebomb poisons the water tables
        7. Timebomb dies, and its only assets are poisoned land (which has negative value once it is a proven hazard)

        Isn't it awesome how property rights solve all problems?

        • by rahvin112 (446269)

          You screwed up the name.

          They called it Superfund. You know, when the government was forced to spend upwards (they stopped counting in 2003) of $8.5 billion dollars of taxpayer money remediating contaminated ground from companies and owners who no longer existed or were destitute.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superfund [wikipedia.org]

    • by Grayhand (2610049) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:23PM (#43217067)

      How to be successful: * Socialize the risks * Privatize the profits

      Even commercial car washes have limits on pollutants they pass forward to water treatment plants. I guess someone just conveniently forgot to include these energy companies.

      Bush Jr, he exempted them from the clean water act. They can legally dump then it's the city and county's problem.

    • by Artraze (600366)

      Thanks for that disestablishmentarian boilerplate, but last time I checked, waste water treatment wasn't "socialized" at all; you pay for it just like water.

      If your point regards the "cost" of having elevated metals in the treated water (which is emphatically not drinking water), then the problem lies in the fact that the sewage treatment they are paying for is inadequate in the eyes of a few people. If that needs to be addressed, then it needs to be addressed as better standards for industrial waste water

  • by Eugriped3z (1549589) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @03:48PM (#43216645)

    So that simple-minded corporations won't confuse themselves wondering if it might be cheaper to risk getting caught.

    There's no excuse for allowing energy companies, some of the most profitable in existence to off-load (externalize) the cost of their operations and subsidize their profits by burdening public utilities with the clean up expense, especially when those facilities were never intended to deal with substances like those used in the 'proprietary mixtures' that fracking companies have protected from the prying eyes of the public.

    Setting standards that require these morons to clean up their own mess, and attaching penalties for failure that put violartors out of business is the only thing U.S. corporations understand.

    • by AuMatar (183847) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @03:55PM (#43216721)

      Fines don't do it. Jailtime for CEOs would. My rule of thumb- any crime bad enough to be fined a 100K dollars should include 6 months of jailtime for a CxO or the president of the board of directors. For every 100K after that, add 6 months for another of them. No parole. THAT would get companies to clean up their act.

      • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

        Fines don't do it.

        Agreed. If that were effective, BP would be really hurting right now.

      • by sribe (304414) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:14PM (#43216937)

        Fines don't do it. Jailtime for CEOs would. My rule of thumb- any crime bad enough to be fined a 100K dollars should include 6 months of jailtime for a CxO or the president of the board of directors. For every 100K after that, add 6 months for another of them. No parole. THAT would get companies to clean up their act.

        No, it would merely limit fines actually imposed to $99,999.99 ;-)

      • Not nearly enough. Every investor needs to share responsibility.

        You cannot finance an operation and have no liability towards who it kills/effects.

        • You must not understand where your IRAs are, because they're in these companies.

          Does that mean every mutual fund must pass this punishment on to its customers? There's no way, because that might be a breach of confidence.

          You (as the investor) have no way of knowing exactly what gets done because the information doesn't come out until it's too late for you to make an informed decision.

          Are you a senator or congress critter? Upper management of a US automaker?

          • Well if you are irresponsible enough to not know where your money is and what it is doing, than you are as responsible as a gun owner who does not know where his gun is or what it is doing.

      • by Grayhand (2610049)

        Fines don't do it. Jailtime for CEOs would. My rule of thumb- any crime bad enough to be fined a 100K dollars should include 6 months of jailtime for a CxO or the president of the board of directors. For every 100K after that, add 6 months for another of them. No parole. THAT would get companies to clean up their act.

        Under those rules the head of BP would get life on the day he was appointed.

        • by AuMatar (183847)

          The CxO/board at the time the crimes were committed of course. Not at the time of the ruling, that would be ex post facto.

      • by Dynedain (141758)

        No, that completely destroys the point of incorporating and would hurt small companies immensely.

        Instead, there should be fines appropriate to the scale of the problem and the scale of the company. Make them big enough and the shareholders will start suing the board of directors for the screwups. Heads will roll, and reputations will be destroyed.

      • by jovius (974690)

        Following the current paradigm we would end up having high class privatized prisons full of CEOs working at a lower rate.

  • Sometimes the gas producers dispose of this fracking wastewater by sending it to treatment plants that deal with sewage and water from other industrial sources.

    And Here I thought I heard that they *usually* just dumped it down their unused wells... In fact, that was where MOST of this horrible liquid waste ended up, a few miles down..

    Apparently this is a slow news day...

  • All what's needed is some civilisation.
    Because in a civilised society the polluter pays, he'll have to pay so much for polluting that working clean becomes the logic and easy solution.

    The oil industry has plenty of money and the solutions are since years on the shelf, pumping it back into this or a depleted reservoir is generally the cleanest way to get rid of the crud.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:04PM (#43216823) Homepage
    The only problem is idiots that don't want to use it responsibly. Fracking makes energy cheaply. That's a good idea.

    The problem is it has clear environmental risks that the frackers don't want to discuss.

    They don't want to tell you what they put into the ground (because they are afraid people will sue them - or steal their wonderful business secrets).

    Being in business means you get sued. Deal with it. As for business secrets - ever hear of patents????

    The truth is that Frackers are having problems not because the technology they use is more dangerous than other tech, but because they are so damn greedy they want to do so without taking reasonable safety and anti-pollution precautions. Let's be honest here - the EPA is not know for being a hard-ass. They let people get away with amazingly evil misdeeds before they take action.

    I am all in favor of fracking - if they publicly reveal everything they pump into the ground and take reasonable steps to ameliorate the problems.

    Yes this will cost more. But fracking will still be cheap. We have a right to cheap CLEAN energy, not just cheap energy.

    • by wjwlsn (94460)

      FWIW, Congress told the EPA to study this. Their first progress report was issued December 2012.

      http://epa.gov/hfstudy/ [epa.gov]

      I've only skimmed the report, so I can't be sure, but it looks like the report is long on methodology but short on actual results.

    • I am all in favor of fracking - if they publicly reveal everything they pump into the ground and take reasonable steps to ameliorate the problems.

      You probably will not be in favor of fracking once you find out what they pump into the ground and what they consider "reasonable steps".

    • by Grayhand (2610049)
      " Let's be honest here - the EPA is not know for being a hard-ass" Honestly the EPA is a neutered dog with his teeth pulled. For all the spills and air pollution how often do you hear about fines? Sure they made an example of BP in some ways but they even let them pull out before the clean up was done. Dig down on most of the beaches and there's still oil. The bottom is dead and still covered in oil. Those dispersants they were so fanatical about spraying were to make it sink below the surface not to make t
    • by Chalnoth (1334923)
      Sure, it's great tech as long as you don't mind a few people having flammable tap water.

      The basic mechanism of frakking guarantees that there will be broad contamination of any aquifers near the frakking site.

      Oh, and let's not forget that frakking is yet another way to accelerate global warming. There is no possible way to compensate for that aspect of this horrible, horrible practice. We need to be getting off of fossil fuels, not investigating new ways of dredging up every last hydrocarbon stored un
    • Being in business means you get sued. Deal with it.

      The sad thing is that it seems a lot of people actually agree with this.

    • by rts008 (812749)

      I am all in favor of fracking - if they publicly reveal everything they pump into the ground and take reasonable steps to ameliorate the problems.

      Yes this will cost more. But fracking will still be cheap. We have a right to cheap CLEAN energy, not just cheap energy.

      I'm confused by this...
      How do you get CLEAN energy by way of any process that involves fracking?
      Is CLEAN an acronym for something that excludes hydrocarbons(which are notoriously not clean energy) as an energy source?

      The mind boggles........

    • They let people get away with amazingly evil misdeeds before they take action.

      Like breathing out a pollutant (CO2). Let's put it another way: the EPA is just one among a number of tools used by the politicians to beat at oponents and score points with the dickheads who vote them in (left or right), even if it means (logically implying if not explicitly saying) that you shouldn't have a right to exist, the politicians and their tools will do it, when it becomes convenient. I am all for forcing these compa

    • We have a right to cheap CLEAN energy, not just cheap energy.

      Bullshit. Why were you given any modpoints? There is no such right, and Energy has never been "clean'--even those damn solar panels require a ton of waste and dirty stuff before they go into production. Your own friggin' body produces a ton of shit (literally!) to make and then use energy. Put another way: you have a relative right not to be unduly harmed out of negligence or willful knowledge of harmful consequences of actions taken anyways, wi

    • Every single thing we do has environmental consequences. It is a question of risks, rewards, and tradeoffs. Due to the rather large amount of free media coverage given towards fracking opponents, the industry has been quite responsive to just about every tax/requirement that has been enacted - many times complying with new regulations before they are imposed. I've also heard of cases where the drillers have improved local infrastructure to better than pre-drilling condition. I am not suggesting they are
  • by jweller13 (1148823) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:09PM (#43216875)
    Fracking was explicitly exempted from the federal Clean Water Act http://sites.duke.edu/sjpp/2011/ensuring-safe-drinking-water-in-the-age-of-hydraulic-fracturing/ [duke.edu]
  • Why is the waste water treatment plant accepting waste they cannot treat?

    Don't accept it and make the driller send it to someone who can handle it if you can't. Seems simple enough to me.

    • by PRMan (959735)

      Why is the waste water treatment plant accepting waste they cannot treat?

      Don't accept it and make the driller send it to someone who can handle it if you can't. Seems simple enough to me.

      You seem to be misunderstanding water...and gravity...

      • by lennier (44736)

        You seem to be misunderstanding water...and gravity...

        So-called "gravity" is a socialist myth. A vast invisible centrally-mandated field stretching across the galaxy, coercing otherwise herorically isolated atoms of matter to collide together and "cooperate" by force? Only hard-core Marxists could believe in such an economy-destroying fiction.

        No, in the libertarian space utopia, every lifeform provides their own personal collection of photon and graviton particles, powered solely by their own sweat and gumption, and no particle interacts with any other except

  • The waste plant has to meet effluent standards, not drinking water standards. Why would you confuse the two? All waste treatment plants operate under this model.
    • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:52PM (#43217407)
      The most important part of the article is completely ignored by the summary. Wastewater treatment plants stopped accepting the waste water from fracking operations because it seemed likely that the results this study found would be the case (the study needed to be done to confirm that what was apparent was what was real). Treating the waste water from fracking operations is a greater expense than treating other waste water. The fracking operations are appropriately forced to absorb this cost. That means that there is no actual problem here.
    • by bobbied (2522392)

      Mod Parent UP!

      They are totally correct, this article is generally just FUD. The standards being quoted are "DRINKING WATER:" standards! Why is a waste water treatment plant being dinged for not meeting drinking water standards on what it discharges? We don't require them to meet the drinking water standards, so they don't.

      http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/criteria/current/index.cfm

      These Anti Fracking nut cases need to go argue with the EPA and get the law changed if they are going to

  • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:45PM (#43217311)
    Does the presence of these contaminants affect the pressure pumps? If not, there's no need to dispose of the water (which is incompressible so the up-to 80% which returns to the surface could just be sent down again instead of replaced with new water).

    And when they're done fracking at one site, they can just haul the waste water to the next site for re-use. There are probably some sediments that come up with the water, but those should be pretty easy to filter out.
    • They do this. Filtration and centrifuging is easy, and it's done constantly. You start having problems when too much salt from the natural formations occurring in your water. You can't filter out too much salt (economically, anyways).

      I read somewhere that a lady was saying that some frac water spilled on her land, and now the grass won't grow. I got a safe hunch that it was salt water and not some magical toxic chemical.
  • by Tator Tot (1324235) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @04:58PM (#43217499)
    I'd like to think that more people would have an idea of what is actually in these fluids. There is a lot of information out there. Don't say "BUT.. BUT... THE COMPANIES DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW WHATS IN THEM!" because that's not necessarily the case. Southwestern Energy has a nice inforgraphic [google.com] as to what can go into a frac fluid, and in approximate quantities. You can find many more online. Even Halliburton [halliburton.com] tells you what's in their fluids!

    We make a host of additives for frac fluids, like viscosifiers (the chemicals guar or xanthan gum), friction reducers like PHPA (the chemical partially hydroxylated polyacrylamide), and sand (the chemical silicon dioxide) or ceramic beads (typically bauxite based).

    The items mentioned in the article make it sound like "they are adding benzene and barium to the fluids, and we had no idea that they do this!". I'll help you guys out. Barite (barium sulfate ore) is added to every oil well in the world as a weighting agent for the drilling mud. It's solubility in water is nil. Would water that is flushed down a well that has been drilled capable of picking up barium that has formed a filter cake on the walls of the bore? Sure, but it's also in EVERY WATER OR OIL MUD USED IN EVERY WELL IN THE WORLD.

    Benzene in the frac fluid? Nobody adds benzene to frac fluid. Here is most likely how it got there: oil based drilling muds use diesel as a carrier fluid (if the drilling is done on land, not the case offshore). Diesel has 30% aromatic content (ie. benzene, toluene, xylene). IF the well was drilled with an oil mud AND the well was recently finished being drilled AND it was recently cleared out, then the first part of the "waste" frac fluid will probably contain benzene.

    They don't care right? WRONG. They do on site testing to make sure the sample doesn't sheen or have any type of oil based fluids in the water. If it does, then the water has to be treated before being disposed (i.e. sewage, lakes, rivers, etc). So my question to the people testing these fluids: At what point did they test for benzene? Did the frac water come from a well that was drilled using diesel? Did the frac water come from a well using water based fluids? Were these random frac waste samples? What part of the country did these frac water samples come from? Did the frac water encounter aromatic hydrocarbons in the formation?

    These things are needed to come to a conclusion as to where did these chemicals come from.
  • Fracking created the the waste. But why didn't the treatment plants know they weren't removing the contaminants? Why did they release water into the watershed without testing it first? If you run an industrial waste water treatment plant, and a company says "hey, I've got some water here I'd like you to treat" I would expect a part of the process is asking "what is in the water?" and "can our process handle this?"

    It sounds like some due diligence was not done here. It is thankful that the graduate stude

  • particularly, from large chemical plants to (what I have studied lightly) film processing operations. and the usual rule is, if your effluent does not meet certain parameters, you either pre-treat on site or you pay for us to do it and we also charge you whatever we like to run and maintain it. this is determined at time of connection, and contracted, and generally there should be a periodic review of conditions.

    meaning in practice, if you have a large fracking field, you have a pretreat system. if you h

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @06:45PM (#43218553) Homepage

    Okay. I've heard enough. I have not heard of any private water processing plants so I'm going to go out on a limb and presume that this is a public cost and that the frackers aren't really paying for what they use. So someone out there, if you know, please put my rage to ease by explaining that the frackers are paying for the full cost of the water treatment... better, I see a way that the public can benefit in some way -- let the frackers pay for more than their own clean-up... make it like a TAX! It's not fair to put the tax burden only on the consumer which is more or less how it's done now as I understand it.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

Working...