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Frack Water Market Booming

With hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – the use of high-pressure water to help extract previously inaccessible shale gas – eager to replicate its success outside the United States, the market for water treatment will grow nine-fold to $9 billion in 2020. This expansion will spur technology innovation and novel thinking about water disposal and reuse, but the field rapidly is growing overcrowded, creating significant risk for new entrants, Lux Research claims in a recent report.

Fracking requires between 25,000 barrels to 140,000 barrels of water per well, and produces toxin-laced brine that can be more than six times as salty as the sea. Its growth has energized the water industry, inspiring a bumper crop of new water treatment startups vying to treat the highly challenging flowback wa- ter. “Fracking represents a significant water treatment challenge – hydrocarbons, heavy metals, scalants, microbes and salts in produced and flowback water from shale gas wells represent a water treatment challenge on par with the most difficult industrial wastewaters,” says Brent Giles, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report titled, “Risk and Reward in the Frack Water Market.”

Hydraulic Fracturing with Diesel

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released draft underground injection control (UIC) program permitting guidance for class II wells that use diesel fuels during hydraulic fracturing activities. EPA developed the draft guidance to clarify how companies can comply with a law passed by Congress in 2005, which exempted hydraulic fracturing operations from the requirement to obtain a UIC permit, except in cases where diesel fuel is used as a fracturing fluid.

The draft guidance outlines for EPA permit writers, where EPA is the permitting authority, requirements for diesel fuels used for hydraulic fracturing wells, technical recommendations for permitting those wells, and a description of diesel fuels for EPA underground injection control permitting. The draft guidance describes diesel fuels for these purposes by reference to six chemical abstract services registry numbers. The agency is requesting input on this description.

While this guidance undergoes public notice and comment, decisions about permitting hydraulic fracturing operations that use diesel fuels will be made on a case-by-case basis, considering the facts and circumstances of the specific injection activity and applicable statutes, regulations and case law, and will not cite this draft guidance as a basis for decision.

Pumping's Impact on Sea Levels

As people pump ground water for irrigation, drinking water and industrial uses, the water doesn’t just seep back into the ground – it also evaporates into the atmosphere, or runs off into rivers and canals, eventually emptying into the world’s oceans. This water adds up, and a new study calculates that by 2050, ground water pumping will cause a global sea level rise of about 0.8 millimeters per year.

“Other than ice on land, the excessive ground water extractions are fast becoming the most important terrestrial water contribution to sea level rise,” says Yoshihide Wada, with Utrecht University in the Netherlands and lead author of the study. In the coming decades, he notes, ground water contributions to sea level rise are expected to become as significant as those of melting glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and the Antarctic.

Between around 1970 and 1990, sea level rise caused by ground water pumping was cancelled out as people built dams, trapping water in reservoirs so the water wouldn’t empty into the sea, Wada says. His research shows that starting in the 1990s, that changed as populations started pumping more ground water and building fewer dams.

In the current study, the researchers estimated the impact of ground water depletion since 1900 using data from individual countries on ground water pumping, model simulations of ground water recharge, and reconstructions of how water demand has changed over the years. The increase in ground water depletion between 1900 and 2000 is due mostly to increased water demands, the researchers find. But the increase projected between 2000 and 2050 is mostly due to climate-related factors like decreased surface water availability and irrigated agricultural fields that dry out faster in a warmer climate.

The study assumes that, where there is ground water, people will find a way to extract it, Wada explains, but some of his colleagues are investigating the limits of ground water extraction. One way to decrease ground water’s contribution to sea level rise, he notes, is to improve water efficiency in agriculture – to grow more with less ground water.