Stung by a recent fine for allowing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluids to contaminate a watershed, Atlas Resources has set a goal of 100% reuse of flowback and production brine water as part of a strategy it believes is fundamental to sustainable operations in the Marcellus Shale.

The Pittsburgh-based company has created a new process to achieve that goal. It been reusing 100% of its flowback “for a very long time,” according to Tim Svarczkopf, Atlas director of water management, but, “as we sought out commercially available processes to allow us to achieve our sustainability goal of 100% reuse of production brine as well as flowback, we did not find an optimal technical and commercial match.”

“By virtue of being one of the longer-term operators in Pennsylvania, we have a larger available source of brine water for reuse,” Svarczkopf said at the Developing Unconventional Gas (DUG) East conference in Pittsburgh Wednesday. “While this represents an opportunity for us to use less surface water, it also represents a greater technical challenge, especially where chemistry is concerned.”

So the company developed a process of its own. The patent-pending water reuse process involves a catalytic oxidation treatment of flowback and production brine, conditioning freshwater sources and modifying the fracturing additive package to ensure compatibility. The process offers a significant operating cost advantage over many current reuse processes, Svarczkopf said.

“Our goal is to create a process that has a cost measure of pennies per barrel instead of dollars per barrel,” he said.

In August the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined Atlas for allowing used hydraulic fracturing fluids to overfill a wastewater pit and contaminate a watershed in Washington County, PA (see Daily GPI, Aug. 19).

Pennsylvania regulators have been pressuring drillers in the Marcellus Shale to improve the safety and environmental impact of their operations. The state implemented new rules in August, lowering the permitted limit to 500 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of total dissolved solids and 250 mg/l for chlorides for all new and expanding facilities that treat gas well wastewater (see Daily GPI, Aug. 26).

Atlas has forecast total Marcellus output by the end of 2014 to be about 500 MMcfe/d net. In April Atlas and India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. became partners in the shale play in a transaction worth an estimated $1.7 billion (see Daily GPI, April 12).