As high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HF) has grown substantially in the United States over the past decade, so has the volume of produced water (PW), i.e., briny water brought to the surface as a byproduct of oil and gas production. According to a recent study (Groundwater Protection Council, 2015), more than 21 billion barrels of PW were generated in 2012. In addition to being high in TDS, PW may contain hydrocarbons, PAH, alkylphenols, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), metals, and other organic and inorganic substances. PW from hydraulically fractured wells includes flowback water, i.e., injection fluids containing chemicals and additives used in the fracturing process such as friction reducers, scale inhibitors, and biocides – many of which are known to cause serious health effects. It is hence important to gain a better understanding of the chemical composition of PW and how it is managed. This case study of PW from hydraulically fractured wells in California provides a first aggregate chemical analysis since data collection began in accordance with California's 2013 oil and gas well stimulation law (SB4, Pavley). The results of analyzing one-time wastewater analyses of 630 wells hydraulically stimulated between April 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015 show that 95% of wells contained measurable and in some cases elevated concentrations of BTEX and PAH compounds. PW from nearly 500 wells contained lead, uranium, and/or other metals. The majority of hazardous chemicals known to be used in HF operations, including formaldehyde and acetone, are not reported in the published reports. The prevalent methods for dealing with PW in California – underground injection and open evaporation ponds – are inadequate for this waste stream due to risks from induced seismicity, well integrity failure, well upsets, accidents and spills. Beneficial reuse of PW, such as for crop irrigation, is as of yet insufficiently safety tested for consumers and agricultural workers as well as plant health. Technological advances in onsite direct PW reuse and recycling look promising but need to control energy requirements, productivity and costs. The case study concludes that (i) reporting of PW chemical composition should be expanded in frequency and cover a wider range of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, and (ii) PW management practices should be oriented towards safer and more sustainable options such as reuse and recycling, but with adequate controls in place to ensure their safety and reliability.
Journal of Environmental Management – Elsevier
Published: Dec 15, 2017
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