Geochemical Tracers Help Identify Fracturing Fluid in Environment
Scientists have developed new geochemical tracers that can identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment.
The tracers have been field-tested at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania.
“By characterizing the isotopic and geochemical fingerprints of enriched boron and lithium in flowback water from hydraulic fracturing, we can now track the presence of frack fluids in the environment and distinguish them from wastewater coming from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells,” said Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh, who co-led the research.
“This gives us new forensic tools to detect if frack fluids are escaping into our water supply and what risks, if any, they might pose.”
Using the tracers, scientists can determine where frack fluid contamination has—or has not—been released to the environment and, ultimately, help identify ways to improve how shale gas wastewater is treated and disposed of.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, is the first to report on the development of the boron and lithium tracers.