Framework for Evaluating Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater Treatment Technologies

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Jamie Lee, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Hydraulic fracturing in combination with horizontal drilling has emerged as an economically viable method for obtaining oil and gas from shale regions. However, the process requires large volumes of water during well drilling, completion, and operation. In addition, there is a need to manage the wastewater from these operations, which includes, drilling muds, flowback, and produced water. The wastewater varies in volume and quality, with disparate levels of dissolved solids, suspended solids, and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), among many other constituents, depending on the shale region.  The inconsistency makes finding a feasible treatment process for all hydraulic fracturing operations a challenge. Different technologies have been introduced as solutions to this growing need to manage massive volumes of wastewater; however, not all technologies are viable candidates due to technical, policy, and economic barriers. In this assessment, we evaluate various technologies for their effectiveness in treating hydraulic fracturing wastewater, and we consider the end use of the water and the shale region where the water originates. The technologies are evaluated based on their treatment capabilities, throughput, compatibility with prevailing regulatory constraints, technology readiness level, cost, availability as a service or a product, and mobility. Using literature, interviews with operators, and a technical inventory, we develop a framework for evaluating and selecting optimal treatment technology for wastewater generated in different shale regions.