Hydraulic fracturing is a recent development in drilling technology that has caused an explosion of wealth, jobs, and oil in the Midwest as well as other areas. But what are oil workers and local governments going to do with the waste that is created throughout the drilling process?
On Monday Dec 9 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, a controversial new theory to dispose of nuclear waste was presented.
Leonid Germanovich a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology unveiled a theory that would use fracking wells as a sort of nuclear waste garbage disposal. It sounds terrifying, but is actually just basic physics. The nuclear waste itself weighs significantly more than the rock that it would be injected to. This causes the nuclear waste to sink lower and lower into the earth over time. The problem is, nuclear waste remains radioactive for more than 100,000 years. So, worker safety is certainly a working issue. The scientists proposing the plan also do not know what effect it will have on the surrounding geology of the area yet, either.
The principle has been thoroughly tested in the lab, and is currently being transferred to field testing pending research.
There has also been some recent speculation on what to do with the excess fracking liquid that is being produced.
Hydraulic fracturing is a water conservationist’s nightmare. It takes almost two million gallons to run each well, and in North Dakota the amount is doubled. According to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources’ website, there are currently 9,682 working wells in North Dakota. That means that there needs to be 19.364 billion gallons of freshwater to harvest shale oil in this state alone.
This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the water could be reused. However, the salt it gains through the fracking process makes it impossible to reuse on the rigs themselves.
New York State has begun to think of ways to make the waste created by fracking wells (brine) reusable. They have been using the brine to break up the ice on the roads caused by the recent extreme cold experienced by the majority of the country. It’s working very well because of the chloride contained inside of the brine, which is the same chemical that is contained in the road salt that is used absolutely everywhere.
The major concern with this reuse of fluid is the amount of chloride inside of it. It is much more concentrated in brine and could cause major pollution issues if it is not contained properly. As well as the potential for a major increase in carcinogens injected into the local water supply.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue, and there is currently a bill in process that would ban the activity altogether.