Texas Tech Experts: Unlocking Natural Gas Reserves through Hydrofracking

Petroleum Engineering Chair can speak to safety concerns and treatment alternatives.

Drinking water processed at a sewage treatment plant may not be as safe as consumers would hope. A recent article in The New York Times alleges that unhealthy levels of radioactivity may be found in drinking water as a result of the controversial natural gas drilling process known as hydrofracking.

Mohamed Soliman, chair of the Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering and the George P. Livermore Chair of Petroleum Engineering has done research on this and similar topics.

"Recycling is probably a preferred solution," said Soliman. "Several years ago, I co-authored a paper that calls for the reuse of the wastewater, injecting it back into other formations. However, there are still technical and environmental challenges that would need to be studied."

The pockets of natural gas may be trapped as tiny bubbles deep underground, between thin layers of shale rock. Hydrofracking would provide access by injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas. The process can also produce more than a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium.

The New York Times reported that the wastewater is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water. The wastewater often contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.