Water Treatment as the Mediator in the Fracking Discussion

by | Sep 4, 2012

The boom in hydraulic fracturing on shale lands has inflamed passions, but the debate doesn’t have to be a white-knuckle fight to the death. There are ways to tackle one of the most pressing issues related to fracking – water safety and supply – that many may have overlooked.

The debate has clouded the issue on whether fracking should be an important part of America’s energy future. Getting a complete view of fracking’s potential benefits will be difficult until there is trust all around that safer fracking procedures exist.

Right now, the players driving the discussion include many different businesses, groups and communities that have a stake in, and a nuanced opinion toward, fracking’s success or failure. For the sake of simplifying the argument, this roughly comes down to a debate between two sides: pro-fracking oil and natural gas producers and environmental groups that have taken up the charge of protecting local communities.

Oil and natural gas drillers see a growing, new business opportunity, creating badly needed jobs in a poor economy. Environmentalist groups, on the other hand, have a host of concerns. Chief among them, though, is a fear that the millions of gallons of water used at fracking sites are becoming part of a hazardous chemical cocktail that gets injected underground.

When it comes to the water problem, Ecologix Environmental Systems and other water treatment solutions providers like us, have the opportunity – or maybe even the obligation – to play the role of mediator. Because the water treatment industry has progressed to the point where it can provide efficient, high-volume well-side water treatment systems, the frac water “problem” really is not as controversial as it seems.

Everyone’s top concern with fracking

Few, if any, established water treatment suppliers got their start with fracking. Much of the work we do at Ecologix is with municipalities, as well as with food processing and manufacturing entities, that want to or are required to recycle their water.  But, water treatment providers are by nature committed to reducing the impact of industry on the environment. With the rise in debate about shale energy exploration, we saw a need to get ahead of a potential problem.

Today, Ecologix works with several oil and natural gas companies engaged in fracking. We’ve moved ourselves into an interesting position because water is such a significant part of the industry. In fact, it would be fair to say that frac water treatment will become one of the fastest-growing markets in the water management industry.

A survey we conducted gives some indication to why that is the case. To get a simple idea of water’s growing importance, we asked environmental engineering and energy industry experts to gage where water rates as an issue in fracking. The results showed that more than 70 percent of respondents felt that the main problems with fracking were water-related.

So it comes as little surprise that water treatment may be the tool that mediates this contentious issue. But it helps to understand a little more about the stakeholders in this conversation.

  • Environmental groups and opponents of fracking maintain their position because of a seemingly imminent depletion of fresh water resources, a correlation between water disposal methods and increased seismic activity, and the prospect of contaminated groundwater aquifers. Their position is more likely to be “shut it down” when it comes to addressing the issue. Just search the word “fracking” on YouTube, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything supportive of fracking amid the sea of environmental protest videos.
  • Oil and gas companies find themselves on the other side of the equation; they’re looking to quiet the environmental conversation. While not necessarily addressing all the environmental commentary thrown at them, they actively redirect the focus on the economic benefits, such as job creation and market stimulation, which accompany their presence in new cities and towns. Many, perhaps most, of the small number of places that can be called boom towns in America today are hydraulic fracturing shales, and oil and gas companies are betting that these are just the types of places where the opportunity message resonates.

While the stances of environmental groups and oil and gas companies might seem to be intractable, that’s not the case. When it comes to the number one concern, water, their needs are not mutually exclusive. Nearly 100% of flowback water from fracking operations can be treated and reused or safely released back into the environment.

Some of the most personally rewarding moments our company has had working with environmental experts come from the opportunities, as a water treatment solution provider, to serve as a mediator on this issue. The right water treatment solution can create a multi-lateral win when it addresses everyone’s concerns equally.

Fracking wells require millions of gallons of water, so the need for a solution is paramount. And, fracking operations require lots of trucks – many of them transporting water to and from drill sites – and that puts added stress on a community’s transportation infrastructure.

When drillers use a water treatment solution that cleans water to the point where it can be safely re-used or returned back to the local environment, they reduce the strain on local water resources. Plus, cost-effective water treatment at drilling sites reduces the need for water transport. Fewer deliveries mean lower costs for the oil and gas companies, less road traffic, and an overall cleaner mode of operations.

Environmental groups get responsible water usage, and oil and gas companies get a promising new business path. It all can add up to situation where communities get more of the benefits of the fracking boom, with less of the environmental threats. Mediation through smart water management creates a path for stakeholders to move forward together and make progress in their ongoing conversation.

Eli Gruber is President and CEO of EcologixEnvironmentalSystems, an Atlanta-based wastewater treatment company specializing in the Oil and Gas Industry. Ecologix has designed a mobile, integrated treatment system (ITS-900) for hydraulic fracturing that can treat up to 900 gallons per minute of frac flowback wastewater. Contact Eli at: egruber@ecologixsystems.com or (888) 326-2020.


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