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Shale Gas Environmental Impact of Shale Gas: Does Fracking Help to Save Water?

Editor: Dominik Stephan

A new research by the Duke and Kent State universities provides surprising results: Although hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") consumes less water than conventional gas wells, the waste water can still overstress local disposal and cleaning systems...

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Hydraulic Frackturing the Texan Barnett Shale
Hydraulic Frackturing the Texan Barnett Shale
(Bild: American Gas Association)

The advent of shale gas has shaken the global economy: While Europe and Asia groan under the burden of high energy prices, America eyes for total independence from oil and gas imports. While the geopolitical consequences of this development remain unclear, the economic potential is game–changing: The US could well face a decade of reindustrialisation, analysts expect.

Despite these potentials, critics blame shale gas production to pose a serious thread to ecosystems and ground water. As the nonporous shales have to be fractured with a mixture of water and highly aggressive chemicals ("cracking"), shale gas is indeed no green choirboy. In terms of water consumption, it could nevertheless be better than its reputation, a new study shows.

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Shale Gas Produces Less Wastewater than Conventional LNG

Hydraulically fractured natural gas wells are producing less wastewater per unit of gas recovered than conventional wells would. Nevertheless, the enormous scale of the shale gas revolution poses serious challenges for water and waste water management systems: The scale of fracking operations in the Marcellus shale region (in the North American Appalachian Basin) is so vast that the wastewater it produces threatens to overwhelm the region's wastewater disposal capacity, according to new analysis by researchers at Duke and Kent State universities.

Plus 30 % Gas Per Well – Shale Gas Efficiency Beats Water consumption

Hydraulically fractured natural gas wells in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania produce only about 35 percent as much wastewater per unit of gas recovered as conventional wells, according to the analysis, which appears in the journal Water Resources Research. "We found that on average, shale gas wells produced about 10 times the amount of wastewater as conventional wells, but they also produced about 30 times more natural gas," said Brian Lutz, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Kent State, who led the analysis while he was a postdoctoral research associate at Duke. "That surprised us, given the popular perception that hydraulic fracturing creates disproportionate amounts of wastewater."

Yet, the gas boom in the region stresses the water network, which has become a bit long in the tooth, insiders believe... More on page 2!

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