Innovative process removes radioactivity from fracking flowback water, extends water supply

A team of researchers discover a process that cleans fracking flowback waters that are contaminated with radioactive materials enough to use again.

A project lead by Duke University, working with researchers from Dartmouth College and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, set out to find a solution to two major problems faced by the hydraulic fracturing industry: radioactive contamination of wastewater and dwindling freshwater supplies in many oil and  gas-rich areas.

Radioactive contamination can occur in flowback water from hydraulic fracturing in areas with naturally-occurring radioactive elements in the soil. When it does occur, state and local laws and regulations can severely limit options for disposing of the contaminated water.

The researchers found that mixing the flowback water with acid drainage from mining causes the formation of solids that include the radioactive materials. The solids can disposed of at a hazardous waste facility, and the remaining water can be using to drill another well.

So far the discovery has been tested only in a lab. Field testing is still needed, and researchers from other institutions caution that it may not pan out because of elements that may remain in the water.

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Written by Marta Weismann