06/13/2022 | Environmental | 8 MINUTE READ
Monitoring and Managing Fracking Impurities
Also referred to as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is a method that’s regularly used to produce natural gas and oil. This type of technology is able to assist with extracting natural gas, water, geothermal energy, and oil from underground. It has been used across the U.S. since the late 1940s. Since that time, over 1.7 million wells have been created in the U.S. with the fracking process, which has resulted in the production of over seven billion barrels worth of oil.
If you’re unsure of how hydraulic fracturing works, this process involves injecting materials and liquid at high pressures to facilitate the creation of very small fractures in the ground. These fractures occur in shale formations and lead to the production and extraction of energy via an underground well. The extraction occurs once the drilling has been concluded.
The fracking process tends to take around 3-5 days to be completed. Once this process is finished, the well that was formed with fracking can produce natural gas or oil for decades. Since the creation of this technology, fracking has allowed for the creation of millions of jobs while also helping to keep energy prices low. However, there are some potential downsides to fracking in regards to the impurities that could seep into drinking water and groundwater.
While fracking can be performed safely, some companies will take shortcuts, which could result in this process being poorly managed. When the wrong equipment is used or bad practices are implemented, impurities could enter groundwater and drinking water supplies. You can test for impurities and identify the current contaminant levels with a conductivity sensor, of which there are several different types to select from. This article offers a more detailed look at how to monitor and manage any fracking impurities that might occur.
Does Fracking Contaminate the Water Supply?
There are times when fracking will cause water supplies to be contaminated. To understand how fracking can cause water supplies to be contaminated, you should first know that the fracking fluid that’s used for this process contains a certain amount of chemicals. However, these chemicals and impurities shouldn’t contaminate water supplies during standard operating procedures since this process involves drilling a hole over one mile underground, which is considerably deeper than the aquifers that provide the public with water supplies.
Another way in which water supplies can be contaminated by fracking is if the drill hole goes directly through a water-bearing rock. In the event that the borehole isn’t cased properly to stop leaks from occurring, the fracking liquid may escape and enter the aquifer. This issue was particularly common in the early years of fracking. Keep in mind that impurities may enter water supplies if the drill is too close to the aquifers.
While most of the issues surrounding fracking occur during the drilling process, water supplies can also become contaminated in the event that the gas or oil wells aren’t built with durability in mind. If these wells leak, groundwater can become contaminated. Any flow-back water can lead to the contamination of water supplies and streams.
While safe methods for fracking have been developed, environmental safeguards aren’t as strong as they should be when it comes to making sure that groundwater and drinking water don’t become contaminated. For instance, chemicals like toluene and benzene are known to cause cancer if consumed at high levels. These are two chemicals that are commonly used as part of the various fracking fluids.
Even though toluene and benzene can increase a person’s risk of cancer, both chemicals are currently exempt from being regulated through the Safe Drinking Water Act. Fracking companies are also able to perform this process without disclosing what chemicals they are using in the fracking fluid, which means that only the drilling companies know exactly what is in the fluid.
At the moment, fracking is being used across rural landscapes, which means that recreational and agricultural economies are being put at risk if drilling companies don’t maintain proper safety standards. Without the right safeguards in place, fracking may cause poisoned water as well as ruined landscapes. Keep in mind that fracking is also known to consume a high amount of water. Every well that’s created with fracking requires several million gallons worth of water.
Identifying Contaminants with Water Conductivity
Whether you work for a drilling company or want to test your drinking water to make sure it isn’t contaminated, electrical conductivity is a type of measurement that has proven to be effective at identifying the levels of contaminants that are currently situated in a sample of water. This measurement can involve readings that range from 0-50,000 uS/cm, which is the symbol of microsiemens per centimeter. Water conductivity identifies how capable water is of passing an electric current.
If you want to understand how to properly monitor for fracking impurities, you should know that the lower readings indicate relatively clean water that likely doesn’t contain high contaminant levels. For instance, freshwater tends to come with conductivity readings of anywhere from 0-1,500 uS/cm. In comparison, seawater comes with conductivity measurements of around 50,000 uS/cm.
Before you measure the conductivity of water, remember that low amounts of salt are naturally present in most sources of water. In fact, these salts are known to be essential for animal and plant growth. If ever conductivity levels become too high, aquatic ecosystems may be at risk of extensive damage. The following displays some of the more common conductivity readings, which extend to:
- 0-800: At these levels, the water is relatively clean, can be consumed by humans, and is suitable for livestock
- 800-2,500: This water is somewhat more contaminated but can still be consumed by humans
- 2,500-10,000: This range of conductivity readings indicates that water shouldn’t be consumed for humans and isn’t suitable for most types of irrigation
- Over 10,000: If you receive these readings, the water should never be used for consumption, irrigation, or most livestock
- Up to 50,000: At this reading, you can use water to flush toilets in the event that corrosion within the cistern is able to be properly controlled
Can Fracking Be Done Responsibly?
Even though there are many issues that could result in groundwater and drinking water supplies becoming contaminated, fracking can be done responsibly as long as the drilling company cares enough to maintain safety standards. One option involves using fracking systems that don’t require water to be operated.
Since fracking systems use high amounts of water, a water-free fracking system can save a considerable amount of water while also reducing the possibility of groundwater contamination. Most companies that use water-less fracking systems outfit the system with a type of gelled fluid, which produces similar results.
You should also look into getting rid of fresh water and replacing it with brine or recycled water. These types of water work well when used in fracking systems and will automatically reduce the amount of pollution that occurs when drilling.
A third option at your disposal involves replacing any diesel-powered equipment that you currently use during fracking. This type of equipment is known to produce greenhouse gasses and poisonous pollutants when used to pump or drill wells. Instead of using diesel-powered equipment, opt instead for systems with solar panels or natural gas engines, which will significantly reduce the amount of damage that you do to the environment.
You should also look into performing wastewater purification. Keep in mind that fracking is known to produce higher amounts of wastewater when compared to the total amount of oil that it produces. This wastewater is typically shipped to storage facilities that are positioned underground, which means that it shouldn’t be an issue. However, it’s recommended that you treat wastewater before shipping it out, which lessens the potential for pollution. Any treated wastewater may also be reused, which should lead to you saving a considerable amount of money.
The fifth and final method for performing fracking responsibly involves reducing methane leaks as much as possible, which is among the most common issues with fracking that can lead to contaminated water. Keep in mind that reducing methane leaks should also reduce the amount of damage that’s done to the environment.
You can take steps to mitigate methane leaks by outfitting your fracking site with an infrared camera, which will be able to detect any leak that develops in the system. Another option involves replacing any pressure-monitoring pneumatic systems, which should keep methane leaks at bay. Consider replacing these systems with pumps that are powered with solar energy. This option can lead to much less emissions.
The Future of Fracking and Wastewater Purification
While many drilling companies still implement unsafe practices when performing fracking, there are also many companies that are taking strides towards improving their operations and making sure that the fracking process is more environmentally friendly. When looking at the future of fracking, water impurities can be kept at bay by using proper tools for monitoring and managing contaminant levels in the fracking liquid.
By implementing these procedures, you’ll be able to substantially reduce the risk of contamination to fracking water. There are also many wastewater treatment and purification methods that exist to reduce contaminant levels in groundwater after an issue occurs. These efforts have been developed to counterbalance the various dangers of fracking. When combined with safe and proper fracking tools, these water treatment techniques will help you ensure that fracking is performed in a safe and responsible manner.