Hydraulic fracturing accounted for more than one-half of U.S. oil production and two-thirds of U.S. gas production in 2015, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration. Moreover, that percentage is expected to continue to rise as more states undertake hydraulic fracturing to recover reserves held deep within the Earth. While the practice typically produces less greenhouse gas emissions than older technologies such as coal, notes researchers at Penn State, it produces wastewater — as much as 1.7 billion gallons in 2015. Dealing with this wastewater effectively — to protect a finite resource — is the focus of research on several fronts. The results point to a guardedly optimistic outlook.
To get a better understanding of how the contaminants contained in the wastewater may affect the environment, Penn State environmental engineering professor Bill Burgos and his colleagues are studying sediment samples from a water reservoirs and lakes in areas near the fracking operations. Though the research shows the discharge is affecting water and sediment quality, the long-term effects are unknown for now.