A hot topic in the public sphere these days is fracking. I’m not interested in discussing the safety of fracking itself, but rather in the wastewater that it generates. You may have heard things like injecting wastewater underground can cause earthquakes, or that fracking wastes are contaminating surface waters across Pennsylvania. There’s science behind that. But there’s also an economic opportunity. The EPA will supposedly issue regulations for disposal of wastewater from fracking in the future, and the baseline condition is trucking the wastewater out of state, at least for parts of Pennsylvania. Lots of things are cheaper than that.
So start-ups are targeting this market and developing new technology. If they can treat the wastewater to a level where it can be reused for injection, then everyone wins: the net water withdrawals decrease, the treatment load on local municipal water and wastewater treatment plants decreases, and American ingenuity creates jobs. (Side note: no jobs would be created if we had no EPA. Keep that in mind, those who complain that regulations inhibit job creation.) Some ideas are a little out there, like the idea to use soybean oil to capture pure water from the wastewater stream, but I’m glad that they’re thinking about it. With costs like $15 to ship a barrel of wastewater from Pennsylvania to Ohio for disposal, or $5 million to drill a new disposal well, there’s a lot of room to be creative.