KSU professor’s research reveals new information on fracking

Kara Taylor

On Feb. 8, Water Resources Research published a study by Dr. Brian Lutz, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Kent State University, revealing shale gas wells produce three times less wastewater than conventional wells.

Lutz paired with colleagues from Duke University to conduct research on hydraulically fractured gas wells. Native to Lordstown, Ohio, he is curious to know how fracking is affecting his home state.

Hired in November 2012, Lutz currently studies how humans alter the natural chemistry within their environment. His recent studies focus on advantages and disadvantages of shale gas energy production compared to conventional gas production and mountaintop coal mining.

“Fracking is not wholly good or bad,” Lutz said. “We have to understand the advantages and disadvantages so we can weigh the tradeoffs among producing energy and decide how we want to produce energy.”

Due to the massive size of shale gas wells, the amount of wastewater transported for treatment is relatively large. Shale gas wells produce nearly 10 times more wastewater than conventional gas wells, but produce 30 times more gas. For every equal unit of gas recovered, shale wells produce about one-third the amount of wastewater as conventional gas wells.

During hydraulic fracking, water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground with force. The water forces any fractures to open and the sand props fractures to prevent closing. Gas embedded within the shell rock is then extracted. The fluid injected down hole consists of 99.5 percent water and sand and the remaining 0.5 percent is added chemical.

Yoram Eckstein, professor of geology at Kent State University, said, “once fracking is completed, backflow of fluid travels to the surface, roughly 10% of what is pumped down returns to the surface, the rest stays in the shale formation.”

“The 10% that reaches the surface is salt water and has to be disposed of properly, because if not it could reach the drinking water,” Eckstein said.

“There are three general types of pollutants found in the wastewater such as organic molecules, some metals, ions and salts, “Lutz said. “Each pollutant requires a different treatment process.” Research is still being conducted to find a more efficient way to treat fracking wastewater in various areas.

Kent State University has the privilege of a rich natural environment and has plenty of opportunity to offer research in various fields of study, Lutz said.

“Kent State sits in the mix of the shale gas revolution, and we also have a regional presence due to our regional campuses,” Lutz said. “From many aspects of the university — whether that be social sciences, natural sciences, business or economics — there is a great diversity in research that can be offered.”

Lutz attended the College of Wooster and obtained a Bachelor of Science in biology in 2005. He then attended Duke University and obtained his doctorate in biogeochemistry in 2011. He was hired at Kent State in 2012.

More on fracking here.

Contact Kara Taylor at [email protected].