Two Clemson University professors recently wrote a proposal to the Department of Energy to address the problem of contaminated waters associated with energy production. The pair was awarded more than $800,000 to find economical and environmentally sensible ways to treat water contaminated during oil and natural gas production. Professor Jim Castle, a geologist in the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences and John Rodgers, professor of environmental toxicology in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources plan to create constructed wetland systems to cleanse the water for reuse. Rodgers says the water wasted during oil and natural gas recovery is overwhelming. According to Rodgers, “There are actually millions and millions gallons a year of what we call ‘produced waters’ that is brought to the surface as natural gas is recovered and oil is recovered from the ground.”
“Currently, there aren’t any efficient or effective ways to deal with these waters. Quite often, these waters are returned to the geological formation. They are pushed back into the ground. That’s awfully expensive.”
The goal is to treat this water to reuse for many purposes such as irrigation, livestock watering, municipal use, and domestic use. Rodgers says they are taking a lesson from nature as to how to best treat the water in a low-cost method. “Wetlands have been doing this for all times,” said Rodgers. “Actually, in the geologic record, we can go back in time and we discover in sedimentary rocks that wetlands have actually been taking metals, for example, out of water–inorganic(s) like selenium and other things like that out of water–and they’ve been degrading organic materials like oil and grease and salt for all time.”
Rodgers says the cleaner they can get the water, the more uses they can get from it saying, “The plans for reuse of this water range all the way from things like irrigation of crops to watering livestock to release to aquatic systems to support fish and other wildlife all the way through human consumption.”
“We would like to be able to clean the water up just as clean as possible so that we have any of those options available to us.”
By cleaning the water for reuse, this reduces environmental risks and saves the cost of pumping the contaminated water back into the ground. Rodgers explains how the water can become contaminated. “Those waters that we work on are contaminated because they come in contact with oil, so they may have organics associated with them,” Rodgers said.
“They are also contaminated from the formation. In other words, the oil and water are down below the earth’s surface and they are in contact with elements that they put into solutions. These can be things like copper, lead, zinc…metals of that sort.”
The funding includes $689,500 from the US Department of Energy and $120,000 From Chevron of Houston.