Fracking waste treatment and disposal could cost £1m a well – new research

171216 KM Eddie Thornton

Third Energy’s KM8 fracking site at Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, 16 December 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

Researchers at Edinburgh University have warned that cost of waste treatment and a shortage of specialist facilities could limit the development of fracking in the UK.

A team from the university’s School of Geosciences estimated that treating the salinity and other chemicals in fracking wastewater at existing facilities could cost between £100,000 and £1 million per well under current treatment regulations. This represented between 2% and 26% of the expected total revenue from each well, they said.

Operators could face additional costs of about £163,000 per well to dispose of concentrated sludge containing naturally occurring radioactive material, known as NORM.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science Water Research & Technology, looked at wastewaters from wells in the US to better understand the volume and make-up of wastewater that would be generated by a UK shale gas industry. It also reviewed the methods used to treat waste from the fracking process.

Only one shale gas well in the UK has produced waste from high volume hydraulic fracturing so far. But the researchers said the fluid could be several times saltier than seawater and contain NORM.

They found that the capacity for treatment of NORM was currently limited in the UK and could restrict multiple fracking operations if not addressed. Under current regulations, NORM concentrated sludge must be disposed in permitted landfill sites, adding to costs of dealing with waste.

The lead researcher, Megan O’Donnell, said:

“Treating wastewater could require a large outlay of the expected revenue from each well, affecting industry profitability.

“The UK’s capacity to treat the radioactive material in wastewater is currently limited, which could pose serious waste management issues if the shale gas industry expands at a faster rate than the increase in treatment facilities.”

There are currently four treatment facilities in the UK that had permits to handle liquid waste containing NORM. The facilities are: FCC Knostrop in Leeds, Bran Sands in Middlesbrough, Castle Environmental in Stoke-on-Trent and FCC Ecclesfield in Sheffield.

The study said there was a limit of 826m3 on the volume of waste containing NORM that could be received each day by these plants.

it said:

“If the volume of FP [fracking waste] water produced during fracturing exceeds this the capacity of the available treatment facilities could become critically stressed.

“Without alternative storage options or emergency treatment capacity, operations would be forced to cease until the fluids can be appropriately handled.”

The study concluded that there was no co-ordinated strategy for the management of liquid fracking waste in the UK.

It also said options for disposal without treatment were limited. The viability of injecting fracking waste underground looked uncertain and there was no comprehensive assessment of suitable sites.

The study’s coordinator, Dr Stuart Gilfillan, said:

“We suggest that industry, wastewater treatment plant operators and UK regulatory bodies work together to produce a coherent strategy for managing wastewater.

“This would serve to assure the public of its safety and prepare for the expansion of treatment capacity required should a shale gas industry develop in the UK.”

Industry reaction

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said:

“At this early stage in the development of the industry there are an appropriate number of Environment Agency approved facilities in the UK for the treatment of our waste water.

“The industry has been working with the Environment Agency and a number of leading institutions and companies in the waste management sector to bring techniques to the UK that enable fluids to be recycled on site and NORM wastes to be managed appropriately. Through this strategic work on waste with regulators, the supply chain and professional institutions, we believe the UK can lead the way on reducing wastes and achieving wider environmental outcomes for the onshore oil and gas industry. It is surprising, therefore, that the researchers did not make contact with the industry, as if they had they would then have understood the extensive work, research and planning we are doing in this area.

“There are some poor assumptions made in the research around revenue per well. The 1.8 billion cubic feet (bcf) estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) assumption includes some of the poorer performing wells of the US, while analysis of the top 6 performing shale gas plays of the US reveals an average EUR of 5bcf, over double the authors estimate(1). The use of this data noticeably reduces the inflated percentage cost projections conducted in this study.

“In the UK, optimal geologies are and will be mapped and explored with state of the art techniques and methods. The same attention and innovation will be paid to the disposal of the waste from these sites.”

Lee Petts, managing director of the consultancy Remsol, said:

“The UK waste management sector has a proud history of responding to market demand, investing in innovation and capacity-building where needed. A good example concerns incinerator fly ash – prior to the practice being banned, this hazardous residue from municipal waste incineration was simply sent to landfill but is now typically used either for its alkalinity value as a reagent in the treatment of acidic wastes or is ‘washed’ to remove insoluble metals and other constituents in order to enable it to be recycled into concrete block manufacture. Waste industry treatment capacity for fly ash has grown in-step with the expansion of waste-to-energy incineration, which would have been hampered otherwise.”

  • Wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in the UK: assessing the viability and cost of management. M C O’Donnell, S M V Gilfillan, K Edlmann and C I McDermott in Environmental Science Water Research & Technology Online link

85 replies »

  1. Oh dear Sherwulfe. There was I thinking I was dealing with adults, but it seems just like spotty youngsters posting selected, and increasingly strange “links” to show their pals they have full knowledge of the “facts” and that is how things really are, and anyone who doesn’t source their knowledge in the same way is not cool! (Meanwhile, they find the opposite sex (or not, in search of inclusion) have gone off with others!)

    Well, the “facts” of life will not only be found on the internet, and neither will the “facts” on this subject. If you want to continue down that road it is up to you, but like some spotty youngsters you might end up confused and disappointed.

    Thanks for the “advice”, but I can think for myself, and I will continue to expect that some will have done their own research because I believe it is insulting not to do that-even if it proves to be incorrect. Don’t let it bother you, and do enjoy Christmas.
    (You can Giggle 2017 World Cheese Award over the festive season if you like. There, I have given you a reference in the seasonal spirit-but, really that was not rocket science was it? Try some-it will not have been influenced by the value of sterling. Mind you, it may have all been exported helped by the value of sterling. But, either way, taxation and employment in the UK will have benefitted. Fromage and fracking, That could be a good examination question at Edinburgh University.)

    Keep warm.

    • Oh reindeer! Well at least we tried. Dunning-Kruger Effect it is then.

      ‘Truth will set you free, but not until it’s done with you first.’ – David Foster Wallace

      • Ha! Ha! Sherwulfe, talking to MC is a bit like throwing rocks into a toxic fracking waste pond, amusing at first, but ultimately, it simply disturbs the contents and increases the volume?

        To the best of my admittedly limited knowledge of toxic fracking waste ponds, something we may all only too soon come to be uncomfortably familiar with, if the likes of Ineos and Cuadrilla et al get their way.
        That also they are not renowned for their sense of humour, nor do they represent an adult or ethical attitude towards the ecological disposal of toxic waste?

        Perhaps these pages have become a similarly experimental alternative repository for such……excess?

          • Here is todays Ian R Crane report highlighting the UKOG fracking waste handling fake claims and fabrication repeated here, regarding fracking waste handling capacity in UK and the question of just where all this highly toxic fracking waste will end up without any perceivable regulations, processes or capacity or indeed any searchable or verifiable information whatsoever?

            As always Enjoy! Enjoy!

            [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

            • BTWTW, is this an example of the wolf crying wolf?

              Perhaps this is an interesting time of year to ask that time honoured question specific to Drill Or Drop “contributions” to date?

              In the matter regarding such related personally directed comments to fellow posters and others?

              That have such posters been similarly naughty or nice in this respect?

              Now that, is the question Santa will be asking.

          • FFS. Crane is a misinformation menace. In his opening statement he blames a change in weather on “chemtrails”.

  2. The suggestions that there’s a lack of treatment capacity and that it will all be too costly are way off beam.

    There are currently around a dozen sites that provide the treatment shown to work. Only four of these presently have the additional environmental permits to enable them to receive fracking flowback wastewater, but there’s nothing stopping the others from applying for these permits too, which would immediately open-up additional capacity without any need to construct more. If that were to become necessary, I have no doubt that the market would respond in the normal way and build additional treatment if the demand was there to support the investment.

    As for it being too costly at up to £1m per well to produce gas for 30 years, I don’t think that sounds costly at all – I have a client that spends £4m a year on one wastestream, so it will pay out £120m over 30 years by comparison (£1m averaged over 30 years is just £33,000 a year). And that assumes there will be no technological advances and innovations that could reduce waste costs.

    • Good, an expert.

      Please describe the precise process, of treatment, the precautions to be taken by treatment workers, air and water risks to nearby waterways.

      What degree of radioactive fluids can be treated and what if the fluids exceed the limits of safe handling? What is the treatment and ultimate release state and the precaution measures to be instituted, the local outflow treatment locations and testing points.

      Where will the eventual post treatment outflows be taken, what degree of treatment and testing will have been documented and recorded, what regulatory body oversees this process, are they properly funded and staffed?

      The degree to which post treatment fluids are rendered safe and “clean”?

      Definitions please?

      What are the toxic and radioactive elements and the volume proposed to be taken to each of these, as yet unspecified treatment sites are?

      What is the distance from the fracking sites to the treatment sites what is the number of tankers in both directions, per day, are the routes controlled by local council traffic authorities and registered and monitored?

      Have the local residents to these waste treatment sites been informed about what is being processed in their location?

      • An in depth, probing reply.

        Perhaps an enquiry as to these aspects wrt pad surface water, drill cuttings and any ‘other fluids’ currently leaving the Preston New Road site with a FOI is warranted.

        I am sure Cuadrilla are logging loads/quantities and analysing contents correctly – the EA etal diligently monitoring, no doubt.

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