WVU gets $1 million to research Marcellus natural gas field waste water treatment process

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29 August 2009 –

Morgantown, W.Va. – West Virginia University’s Water Research Institute (WVWRI) received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy/National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to study ways to cleanse salty water that is produced when gas fields are developed in the Marcellus Shale formation.

“The Marcellus Shale has enormous economic potential for the region but water management is critical to protect the environmental health of the region’s streams and rivers,” Dr. Paul Ziemkiewcz, institute director, said.

Marcellus Shale, is a unit of marine sedimentary rock found in eastern North America that extends throughout much of Appalachia. The shale contains one of the nation’s largest, new natural gas reserves. Its proximity to the East Coast market makes it an important component of the nation’s energy future. The shale stretches 600 miles and some experts believe it could contain 4,359 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.

Ziemkiewcz will lead the project team which will include experts in petroleum geology, chemistry and the staff of FilterSure, Inc., a private company.

He said that development of the Marcellus gas reserves relies on “hydro-fracturing” the formation. Hydro-fracturing is a process that requires huge supplies of fresh water – between one and six million gallons per well. Nearly all of that comes from streams and rivers. About half of that water remains in the ground while the other half comes back up the well to the surface. The technique was perfected in the last couple of decades.

Ziemkiewcz said that when water returns to the surface, it contains very high salt levels. Currently, the water is trucked to an approved disposal site. Trucking and disposal are expensive. Surface water would be conserved and disposal costs would be lowered if that water could be cleaned to the point where it could be recycled for the next fracturing job.

“Suspended particles of rock, chemical precipitates and salts must be removed,” Ziemkiewcz explained. “Otherwise, they would clog up the underground fractures needed to allow the natural gas to flow back to the well.”

A large component of the project will be application of FilterSure’s, non-clogging filtration unit, which could be brought onto a Marcellus well site to process brines that would remove suspended particles. The treated water would then be suitable for further processing to remove salts.

Ziemkiewcz’s project team will evaluate existing salt removal methods and develop novel approaches for brine treatment that could also be brought onto a well site and work in tandem with the FilterSure unit. The goal is to develop a zero-discharge method for brine management at gas wells.

The 32-month project will consist of a laboratory phase and, finally, a field demonstration of the technology to determine performance and cost factors under operating conditions. Several oil and gas producing companies have agreed to cooperate with the project by donating water samples for testing and providing field sites for verification of performance.

For more information contact Paul Ziemkiewicz, WVWRI Director, at (304) 293-2867, ext. 5441.

Posted August 26, 2009