Nine nationwide projects designed to improve water resource management practices at shale gas and coalbed methane (CBM) drilling sites were given a green light to move forward with funding from the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The projects come at an opportune time as state and federal regulators scrutinize hydraulic fracturing at oil and gas drilling sites (see related stories).

The projects will focus on ways to improve management of water resources, water usage and water disposal, and to support science that will aid the regulatory and permitting processes required for unconventional gas development, NETL said. The proposed value for all of the selected projects is $10.2 million; DOE will fund $6.9 million of the total.

Not surprisingly, nearly all of the projects selected are in states with substantial amounts of unconventional gas reserves: Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia.

The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) was selected by NETL for a three-year project to evaluate the potential of combining and treating two waste streams -- flowback water and mine drainage -- for reuse as a hydraulic fracturing (frac) fluid. Pennsylvania is home to part of the massive Marcellus Shale, and the state is in the process of reviewing fracing regulations.

Researchers in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering want to study ways to allow the frac wastewater to be safely reused in other gas wells -- a process that would reduce extraction costs, limit the byproducts flowing into the environment and reduce the strain on freshwater sources currently tapped during extraction.

"Our approach is to not only reuse the wastewater, but also reduce the level of treatment it requires prior to being reused, which should be a much more economical approach," said Pitt engineer Radisav Vidic, who will lead the project. "By reusing the acid mine drainage readily available at many gas drilling locations, we can manage acid mine drainage from older mines and wastewater from current drilling operations, both of which are serious environmental concerns."

The Geological Survey of Alabama was approved by DOE for a three-year project to analyze and develop strategies for water management in the CBM reservoirs of the Black Warrior Basin. The goal is to develop a database and geographic information system (GIS) to provide a basis for more efficient development of CBM and to identify beneficial uses for produced water. At the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, scientists plan to spend two years to develop a water management decision-support system to modify and integrate a water resource simulation model with a GIS.

An 18-month project undertaken by Altela Inc. in Albuquerque, NM, is to demonstrate that its technology may be successfully deployed to treat the produced and flowback water from Marcellus Shale, and that it operates within state and federal requirements. General Electrical Co. in Niskayuna, NY, plans over 18 months to develop a mobile process to treat the total dissolved solids in the flowback water from hydraulic fracturing operations.

Over two years, Oklahoma City-based Ground Water Protection Research Foundation plans to develop a new hydraulic fracturing module as an add-on to the industry's well known risk-based data management system to assist regulators and operators in enhancing protective measures for source water and to streamline the well permitting process. In Tulsa, a three-year project at ALL Consulting will focus on a modeling system to allow operators and regulators to plan all aspects of water management associated with shale gas development.

In College Station, TX, at the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, researchers over two years plan to identify a cost-effective pretreatment method to treat and reuse field-produced brine and fracture flowback waters. And at West Virginia University in Morgantown, a 32-month-long project was funded to develop and demonstrate a process for the frac water returns from Marcellus Shale wells.

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