Engineers, gas company representatives and politicians gathered on the Carnegie Mellon University campus this morning to talk about the place where technology and regulation meet. Much of the talk centered on environmental regulations and water and how technology can make it affordable and safe to meet those regulations and still pull the gas from the Marcellus Shale.
Engineers are always racing to fill voids. In the case of Marcellus Shale gas drilling, they have spent a great deal of time looking for ways to lower the cost of cleaning water coming out of the wells after the hydrologic fracturing process to the standards set by state and federal regulators. Kelvin Gregory is an engineering professor at CMU and moderated the panel. He says one solution is finding ways to reuse the water that comes back out of the well to fracture another well. Typically 30%-40% of the water pumped underground comes back out of the well. When it does so, it is contaminated with salts known as total dissolved solids. Gregory says there are also ways to choose the source of the water wisely to lower the environmental impact. Water that flows out of abandon mines often fouls creeks and streams for miles. He says that water can be used in the fracturing process. Gregory says that will help clean up the impacted waterways and reduce the amount of clean water pulled from other water sources.
Gregory says it is not a question of “if” the salts can be removed but rather a question of “at what cost.” He says the process is very energy intensive but if engineers can find ways to reduce the cost it allows gas companies to operate profitably with tighter environmental regulations in place. Gregory believes that to make the regulatory and entrepreneurial process mesh, all sides need to be as transparent in the effort as possible and the public needs to be informed of all the issues at hand.