Researchers at Ohio University and their oil and gas industry collaborators have been awarded $1.45 million to advance a technology that could keep more production and flowback water at the drilling site instead of heading to contentious underground disposal wells.

Ohio Third Frontier, a technology-based economic development initiative that’s apart of the Ohio Development Services Agency, awarded the funds to the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at Ohio University, a small school in the southeastern part of the state near the epicenter of the Utica Shale boom.

Jason Trembly, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the university, said on the school’s website that wastewater from the oil and gas industry represents one of the largest industrial waste streams in the country. He said technologies to curb and manage it are in high demand by both the industry and the government.

The Third Frontier award comes in addition to $2 million that the research project received from state and federal grants two years ago. The latest funding will allow Trembly, along with collaborators at Hess Corp. and Babcock & Wilcox, an energy technology firm, among others, to advance and commercialize a process for effective water management.

It uses technologies similar to those deployed at power plants, according to the university. In the first step, ultraviolet and water softening technologies used commonly in municipal wastewater treatment remediate bacteria in water. Then, a pump treats high-pressure wastewater in a reactor powered by natural gas from a well. This part of the process heats the water, helping it to take on both a liquid and gaseous state. The contaminants either precipitate out as solids or gasify into hydrogen, leaving clean water.

The solids, such as salt, can be used for road de-icing, and the hydrogen can stay on site and be returned to the process to heat the reactor.

Trembly added in his website post that the basics of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are similar for all shale types. He said different chemical modifiers can be used in the frack fluid depending on the formation, however, and the process researchers are developing is flexible in dealing with the variables of flowback and production water.

In Ohio alone, there are 205 active injection wells, along with another 34 that are being permitted or drilled, according to state data. Wastewater disposal has been on the rise in the state as production grows there and in Pennsylvania (see Shale Daily, July 11).

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says that roughly 98% of all brine water that is generated in or enters the state is disposed of in Class II injection wells, which have proved contentious in communities across the state (see Shale Daily, Jan. 4, 2012; Feb. 25, 2013). And although about 11 million barrels of wastewater were either treated or reused in Pennsylvania through the first six months of the year, another 1.5 million barrels were disposed of in injection wells, most of which are located in Ohio (see Shale Daily, Sept. 19).

The goal of Trembly’s team is to develop a prototype of the process that is capable of treating a barrel per day of flowback water. Data will then be used to develop a detailed design for a commercial-scale unit that can demonstrate its benefits and help in advancing the technology for use in wider applications.