PITA FY2014 Projects

Addressing Water Problems For Marcellus Shale Gas Extraction In Pennsylvania: Innovative Use Of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) Water Through Ion Exchange Technology

PI:Arup SenGupta, Civil and Environmental Engineering

University:Lehigh University

Co-PI(s):Steve Peters, Earth and Environmental Science

Industry Affiliate(s):Purolite

Summary:Every major industrial growth or breakthrough has an impact on the environment. Accordingly, the industrial process needs to be continuously tailored or modified to improve its short- and long-term environmental and economic sustainability. Discovery of naturally occurring Marcellus shale gas and its subsequent extraction offers opportunities for tremendous economic and industrial growth in PA. At the same time, its adverse environmental impact, particularly for our existing water sources, has already raised a major concern and, in many locations, a public outcry.

Our water sources are stressed in the two following ways: first, every gas well requires supply of relatively large volume of fresh water for its continued operation of hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking; second, the flow back or produced wastewater being generated during the gas extraction process contains barium and, occasionally, low concentration of radioactive radium and needs safe disposal. Current practices fail to address these two problems.

In many locations in central and western Pennsylvania, acid mine drainage (AMD) water is abundantly present and unfit for any application. This impaired and condemned source of water has relatively high concentration of sulfate, up to 1000 mg/l. We have embarked on a novel ion exchange process that can treat AMD to remove sulfate, thus making it fit for hydraulic fracturing. Sulfate removed from AMD can subsequently be used to remove both barium and radium completely. Use of a new class of hybrid ion exchange resins forms the heart of the process. Most importantly, the entire process does not warrant addition of any chemicals externally.

We plan to collect AMD and Marcellus flowback waters from the field and demonstrate the viability of the process. We plan to file a patent shortly. Purolite Inc, a major ion exchange resin manufacturing company in Pennsylvania, is immensely interested in the prospect of the project.