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Faced with millions of gallons of potential fracking waste, North Carolina’s fracking commission could encourage drilling operators to reuse the industrial wastewater for crop irrigation.
The proposal Thursday from a member of the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission immediately raised skepticism from several environmental advocates. They said purifying brackish backwash into sprinkler water is technologically possible but in practice has caused environmental damage in other states.
Commissioner Vik Rao assured that one of the smartest options for energy companies would be to reuse the water-and-chemical mixture to hydraulically fracture numerous wells for natural gas production, then desalinate and treat the fracking fluid at the end of the cycle.
The approach would limit the volume of water used in fracking and would also solve the problem of disposal, he said. Rao chairs the Mining & Energy Commission’s Water and Waste Management Committee and said he expects his committee to create fracking standards that will encourage the reclamation of fracking fluids as a state policy.
“Treating for reuse is the cheapest thing you can do and the most environmentally safe thing you can do,” Rao said. “At the very end I would treat it (the waste) for a purpose that is easiest or most useful for a community.”
Rao is the former chief technology officer of Halliburton, the global energy conglomerate that takes credit for developing fracking technology. He recently wrote a primer on natural gas exploration.
Fracking refers to hydraulically fracturing underground rock formations with a mixture of water and chemicals to release the natural gas trapped inside. Shale gas operations now account for a third of the nation’s natural gas production.