Water treatment system proves successful in shale gas application

A water treatment system that can turn wastewater into clean water has been shown to reduce potential environmental impacts associated with producing natural gas from shale formations in the U.S. Appalachian basin.

Altela Inc.’s AltelaRain 4000 water desalination system was tested at BLX Inc.’s Sleppy well site in Indiana County, Penn. as part of a National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)-sponsored demonstration. During nine continuous months of operation, the unit treated 77 percent of the water stream onsite, providing distilled water as the product. The average treated water cost per barrel over the demonstration period was around 20 percent lower compared to the previous total conventional disposal costs at the site. The system also reduced the need for trucking wastewater from the site.

Based on field data generated from the NETL demonstration, Altela increased the efficiency of its technology by more than 30 percent. All of the clean water produced at the demonstration site was suitable for re-use for additional stimulations. It also was suitable to be discharged to surface waterways.

As a result of the DOE demonstration project, Altela designed larger towers for the system and four modules were sold and installed to treat around 100,000 gallons per day of produced and flowback water from hydraulic fracturing. This commercial installation is a 50-fold increase in capacity over the demonstration unit and represents the first of many planned facilities to be developed in the Marcellus Shale Basin and similar shale gas basins throughout the United States. 

Shale is fine-grained sedimentary rock that can be rich sources of petroleum and natural gas. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. shale gas production has increased 14-fold over the past decade and reserves have tripled. Tapping this resource with hydraulic fracturing (using pressurized liquids to fracture subsurface rock) and other techniques has played an increasingly important role in greater U.S. domestic oil and natural gas production over the past decade.

The water resources needed to hydraulically fracture the Marcellus Shale and the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on surface and subsurface water sources have become key concerns for state legislatures, land owners and the public.

The Altela demonstration was one of nine research projects funded by NETL through the Office of Fossil Energy’s Oil & Natural Gas Program in fiscal year 2009. The nine projects, which have a total value of $10.2 million ($7 million DOE; $3.2 million cost share), are developing environmental tools and technologies to improve management of water resources, water usage, and water treatment required for shale gas development across the United States. Several additional demonstrations focusing on other water treatment technologies will be conducted during the remainder of fiscal year 2011.

Read more news and features on environmental controls.

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