Researching Sites for Frack Waste

  • 3D display of injection well locations along with surface topography and deeper layers. Graphic: Battelle

October 5, 2013

The oil and gas industries show no signs of slowing down exploration in Pennsylvania, and rest of the Marcellus Shale region. But the type of drilling they do now, fracking, leaves behind millions of gallons of wastewater. It can be high in salt content, chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive materials.

Scientists at Battelle, a research institute in Columbus, Ohio, are looking for places to put it all. They’ve started a two-year project to help companies find safe wastewater sites. The work is being funded by a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Neeraj Gupta is a senior researcher at Battelle. He says they're studying rock formations in four states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. There's still a lot to learn about storing wastewater deep underground where it can soak in to the rock formations and be contained. 

"When you look at the deep injection formations, what is the right thickness, where is the geology right, and maybe where it's  not right. What is the right injection pressure," says Gupta.

While many current disposal wells are a couple of thousand feet deep, Gupta and his team are studying the geology up to 14-thousand feet down. Gupta says they are not scouting out specific sites, they are researching what makes a geologically good well.

He says deeper wells are isolated from fresh water zones, and less likely to cause contamination.

"There are very few issues (with deep wells), compared to near surface operations," he says.

But Gupta says there is little geologic data thousands of feet underground, and his research will gather available data, and add to the information that's available.