Fracking wastewater is mostly brine and might actually be useful.

Fracking rigs. Photo: Shutterstock

On the list of reasons why people are unsure about fracking, wastewater usually ranks very high. The concern is that wastewater produced as a side effect of fracking could leak into other water supplies and cause great damage. It is assumed that the wastewater contains many unnatural chemicals used in the fracking process.

A recent study has shown that only about 8 percent of fracking wastewater actually contains man-made chemicals, and that most of it consists of naturally occurring brine loosened by the fracking process.

“Most of the fracking fluids injected into these wells do not return to the surface,” says Afner Vengosh, a professor at Duke University and co-author of the study. “They are retained in the shale deep underground. This means that the probability of having environmental impacts from the human-made chemicals in fracking fluid is low, unless a direct spill of the chemicals occurs before the actual fracking.”

The study found that there could be some beneficial uses for this brine.

One example is irrigation. In the western United States, fracking brine has a lower salinity than the brine in the eastern part of the country. The thinking goes that if processors took this brine out of the ground and desalinized it, it could be used to irrigate crops in parts of the country commonly affected by droughts.

It’s possible that there are other uses for fracking wastewater, which could help take some of the sting out of the fracking process. Although there is great concern about the waste products of fracking, it shows no signs of going away. It’s important to find uses for it beyond getting gas, as well as ways to frack safely.

Alternate power sources such solar and wind are important parts of the green energy movement and should be the ultimate focus, but environmentalism has to find ways to contend with existing economies as well. By working with industry and regulators, it is possible to get some benefit from this process, even though it is unsustainable in the long run.

What do you think about this new research? Do you buy the idea of fracking wastewater as useful rather than dangerous? Are you more concerned about the other potential damage fracking can cause? Let’s talk about fracking in the comments!