- © 2011 by the Mineralogical Society of America
Development of unconventional, onshore natural gas resources in deep shales is rapidly expanding to meet global energy needs. Water management has emerged as a critical issue in the development of these inland gas reservoirs, where hydraulic fracturing is used to liberate the gas. Following hydraulic fracturing, large volumes of water containing very high concentrations of total dissolved solids (TDS) return to the surface. The TDS concentration in this wastewater, also known as “flowback,” can reach 5 times that of sea water. Wastewaters that contain high TDS levels are challenging and costly to treat. Economical production of shale gas resources will require creative management of flowback to ensure protection of groundwater and surface water resources. Currently, deep-well injection is the primary means of management. However, in many areas where shale gas production will be abundant, deep-well injection sites are not available. With global concerns over the quality and quantity of fresh water, novel water management strategies and treatment technologies that will enable environmentally sustainable and economically feasible natural gas extraction will be critical for the development of this vast energy source.