- By David Talbot
A new process can cheaply clean extremely briny water coming up from oil wells.
In a nondescript site in Midland, Texas, an inexpensive new process is cleaning up some of the most contaminated water around—the extremely salty stuff that comes up with oil at wells. By the end of next month the technology is expected to be chugging 500,000 gallons per day, furnishing water that’s sufficiently clean to use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and natural gas production (see “Natural Gas Changes the Energy Map”).
The technology may provide a way to deal with the increasing amounts of contaminated water the fossil fuel industry is generating as it pursues more and more difficult-to-reach deposits. Many oil formations can produce as much as five barrels of contaminated water for every one barrel of oil. And the volume of this so-called “produced” water is rising as the industry pumps water into nearly depleted wells to enhance oil recovery.