University Study Could Bring New Uses for Oilfield Waste Water
An oilfield waste product that poses environmental challenges and is linked to earthquakes could become a valuable economic resource if the efforts of Oklahoma State University researchers are successful.
Biosystems and agricultural engineering professor Nurhan Dunford and her team have spent much of the past 5 years developing strains of algae that can be turned into biofuels and feedstocks for food or medicines. The researchers also are using the algae to clean water contaminated by agriculture and oil production.
“Unfortunately, both animal production and hydraulic fracturing operations utilize large volumes of fresh water and generate wastewater that is putting a lot of pressure on our limited freshwater resources and creating huge problems in terms of wastewater disposal and human and environmental safety,” Dunford said. “Our algae research addresses these concerns and problems.”
The researchers are studying strains of algae native to Oklahoma in hopes of finding the best algae and strongest mix of nutrients to clean oilfield waste water. The researchers are studying both flowback water—mostly fresh water mixed with small amounts of chemicals and sand used for hydraulic fracturing—and produced water. Produced water refers to ancient ocean remnants that are recovered from deep below the surface, along with oil and natural gas. Produced water typically is many times saltier than the ocean and contains minerals and chemicals, along with mixtures of oil and other hydrocarbons.