In researching this subject, I discovered a January 16, 2011 article featured in OilOnLine which provides an interesting alternative to conventional fracking techniques. Virginia based PDN Mountaineer, LLC announded that they have partnered with Utah based Purestream Technology in incorporating their Trilogy system to treat and purify wastewater from their Marcellus operations. Purestream claims to be able to alleviate the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing by evaporating produced and flowback water at the ell site. They scrub air emissions, clean and evaporate wastewater and provide water, oil and condensate date tracing technology. A single Trilogy unit place at a well site can process up to 63,000 gallons per day, effectively removing contaminants from waste water and rendering it cleaner than drinking water. They claim it can be engineered and deployed to address specific issues facing any region or producer.
Perhaps the answer lies in another fracking technique. We should soon know. The Akron Beacon Journal reported on January 30, 2012 that Chesapeake has just tried a new process on two wells drilled recently in Ohio (one in Portage County and the other undisclosed). According to the report, they are using a carbon dioxide foam which requires only a tenth of the amount of water used during typical hydraulic fracturing. It has been described as being similar to Alka Seltzer in that it fizzes, expands, and then shrinks back down.
The Portage county well reportedly required less than a half million gallons of water, a refreshing change in that is is less expensive to the driller and less alarming to environmentalists. It appears, but is unconfirmed, that they are using Halliburton's RapidFrac system complete with disintegrating frack balls, which are used to plug the well bore at various stages and isolate different zones for fracking. They claim to be able to save the driller an incredible 2/3rds over normal costs incurred during conventional fracking efforts.
The Times Reporter (New Philadelphia) claims to know further details about CHK's recent drilling efforts. They report CHK to be using an Aqua Renew facility via Rettew Flowback, a company based out of Lancaster, PA. They recycle flowback or brine water by treating and filtering it to remove silt and salts, allowing it to be reused for fracking purposes. The facility runs 16 houra a day and can treat between 10,500 and 12,600 gallons per hour. Chris Foreman, a company executive, explains that they can reclaim about 95% of the water, witht he rest being sludge which can be dumped at approved landfills. CHK promises to open more Aqua Renew sites as drilling expands. It's no wonder, as they have saved more than $6M annually using it during 2010, as per stockholder reports.
I also discovered that this, or a very similar technique has been available since at least 2002. A 2008 article feature in Exploration and Production Magazine purports the method to be superior for a number of reasons. They claim it will enable "production optimization with minimal post-frack cleanup". It significantly reduces the amount of equipment needed and allows for a smaller pad site. Further, it allows the driller to use ultra lightweight proppants (ULWP's) in lieu of sand. ULWP's have much lower specific gravity than conventional proppants, which reduces the settling rate in water and provides unprecedented proppant transport and longer effective frack length. Consequently, the amount of proppant, as well as the amount of water used, is reduced drastically. They claim the process "virtually eliminates post-frack clean-up time and water disposal costs".
The best new regarding this technique? It may actually provide twice the production with only a fraction of the water and sand/proppants required in conventional frack jobs. a 2008 study in Mingo County, West Virginia compared two wells drilled using carbon dioxide and ULWP's to a number of offset wells drilled using conventional hydrofracking. The results? One well produced at nearly twice the rate of comparable offsets. The other was even better, resulting in more than twice the cumulative production (based on a 30 day average cumulative production figure). These wells were drilled into the Upper and Lower Huron shales, which exist throughout much of Appalachia. This may well be the future of fracking, and may pave the way for a revolution in the entire industry.
EQT's Senior Vice-President, Steve Schlotterbeck, acknowledges that "water continues to be a hot topic of conversation". They purport to be using anew and superior technique of their own. They claim it to be especially effective wherever a high silica content exists and the shale is brittle. They have used it on over 25 wells resulting in initial production rates 50-60% higher than those fracked using traditional methods (which reportedly leaves more than half the petrocarbons behind). They are still being pretty secretive about it, so it is unclear whether this is the same technique or an alternative to that discussed above.