Like all industrial activity that uses water in its processes, oil and natural gas activity will produce wastewater that needs to be handled. If not properly treated and disposed of, the potential components found in natural gas flowback and produced wastewater could cause detrimental effects to human health and the environment. However, this is also true of many other types of wastewater that contains similar components, including: stormwater runoff, sanitary sewer effluent, landfill leachate, pulp and paper discharge and other industrial wastewaters.

Hydraulic fracturing practices are evolving rapidly, and new processes and technologies have been developed to stimulate wells, treat fluids and recycle water. Industry is continuously improving these technologies and is striving to reduce freshwater use and reduce fracture fluid additives. As hydraulic fracturing techniques evolved, so too have the regulations which protects the environment and water resources.

fracking wastewater diagram
Natural Gas Wastewater Treatment Options
Source : Atlantica Centre for Energy

In New Brunswick, wastewater treatment and disposal for oil and natural gas production has been identified as a critical issue. This is largely due to the misperception that wastewater from hydraulic fracturing cannot be treated or disposed of in a safe and responsible manner.

The most common method to dispose of wastewater in North America is to inject it underground using dedicated wells designed specifically for the purpose of deep well injection. This is considered a best practice and is used in mature producing regions elsewhere in North America.  Stringent regulations exist for the design and construction of disposal wells. Notwithstanding, the practice of deep well injection is not currently permitted in New Brunswick. Industry seeks to revisit the viability of this practice as an option for wastewater disposal in New Brunswick.

Although deep well injection is not permitted in New Brunswick, other technologies exist to safely treat and dispose of wastewater.  Similar to wastewater fluids coming from other industrial activities, any fluids coming from the hydraulic fracturing process can be treated using a number of individual or combinations of water treatment technologies to reach the required level of cleanliness for disposal at approved sites or facilities.  Once treated, waters could potentially be disposed of in municipal treatment facilities, used in land applications, or discharged to surface waters.  Of course, each option requires regulatory approval and permitting, but the important factor to note is that the water is treated to the required level of cleanliness and meets all regulatory approvals for disposal or discharge—similar to wastewaters from any other industrial processes.

Hydraulic fracturing wastewater can be cleaned up using commonly accepted treatment methods widely used throughout the world.

As an industry, we are committed to go to great lengths to protect and respect the safety of people and the environment. This includes the responsible management of wastes from our operations and activities. So we have been working together with government departments, wastewater professionals, and academia to identify the appropriate wastewater treatment and disposal solutions to meet New Brunswick’s needs.

Although wastewater treatment is common to all industrial activities that use water as part of their process, we understand that people are not as familiar with our industry and have questions about the processes associated with oil and gas production, including wastewater treatment and disposal.  Industry is confident that the right wastewater treatment solutions can be found for New Brunswick, just as other jurisdictions have done where development is taking place.

As a recent report concluded: ‘Flowback water and produced water from natural gas wells may be new to us in New Brunswick, but its treatment is no different than for other types of wastewater we produce. Hydraulic fracturing wastewater can be cleaned up using commonly accepted treatment methods widely used throughout the world. By using those methods, the water can be treated to meet provincial and national guidelines so that it can be safely returned to the environment.”

There have been great advances made in the recycling (i.e. treating) and reuse of wastewater for drilling and completion of oil and natural gas wells.  This is the future direction of the industry as re-using and recycling fluids reduces the industry’s consumption of fresh water and minimizes costs and environmental impacts.  However it is important to note, when water can no longer be recycled for practical reasons, it must be disposed of safely and responsibly.  Combining recycling, re-use and disposal will be the industry norm in the future.