Intelligent Energy

Hydrofracking drives new water treatment solutions

Posting in Energy

Hydrofracking is creating a toxic bloom of wastewater. Industrial wastewater solution makers have devised new technologies to treat it, which reduce the need for chemicals, and can help solve other environmental problems.

Wastewater before and after treatment.

A surge of toxic hydrofracking wastewater has given rise to new chemical free treatment technologies with the potential to solve other nagging environmental challenges ranging from coal mines and pig farms.

I recently spoke with Charles Vinick, CEO of Ecosphere Technologies, to learn about its ability to reduce oil and gas mining operations' dependence on chemicals that are potentially harmful to people and wildlife. Wells throughout the United States are injected with biocides, friction reducers, and scale inhibitors to protect equipment, but ultimately create a toxic brew of wastewater.

Ecosphere utilizes a proprietary oxidation process called "Ozonix" to treat industrial wastewater. Its energy subsidiary has built mobile treatment facilities with that can currently handle 5,000 gallons per minute. Water is "recycled" and can be reused in other wells, eliminating the need for an injection well to keep pollutants out of groundwater, said Vinick.

The technology has been approved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for soil farming, and third party laboratory tests has demonstrated a drastic reduction in microbes - from high to undetectable - after just one past, Vinick says.

Treating the water also eliminates the need for the aforementioned chemicals, but some mining operations will continue to use chemicals nonetheless to reduce risking their investment, Vinick added. "It is a cost effective alternative to chemicals. [Mines] wouldn't use it if it added costs."

Ozonix treated over 1 billion gallons of wastewater in 2011 at over 500 onshore oil and gas wells. Ecosphere's oil and gas revenues have increased 10X over the past two years. Other companies, including OriginOil, offer competing solutions. "Because states are persuading themselves to let fracking go on, they will create a booming market for cleanup," said Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of OriginOil.

However, water pollution is not limited to oil and gas. Ecosphere is in discussions to license its technology to companies that treat coalmining waste and pig farms located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It currently partners with Hydrozonix in the United States.

Vinick, who spent 25 years as managing director of the Cousteau group, believes that companies like Ecosphere are solution providers that will help solve the world's environmental problems.

"I think that you need activists and solution providers," he said.

Untreated wastewater must be contained or hauled off sight for storage. Ecosphere allows mining operations to recycle wastewater to be reused in hydrofracking operations.

(Image credits: Ecosphere Technologies)

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure