The U of A is targeting water-friendly fracking with $2 million in funding

Daniel Alessi, an assistant professor in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences, is leading a team at the U of A that plans to take a close look at how water is used in the fracking process. Image: U of A

A team of scientists at the University of Alberta (U of A) is setting out with $2 million in hand and a dream of making hydraulic fracturing more environmentally friendly. Led by Daniel Alessi, an assistant professor in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences, the team plans to take a close look at how water is used in the fracking process.

“One of the things that people often worry about with hydraulic fracturing, unlike most other industrial processes, is that in many cases, you’re taking water from the surface and permanently removing it from the water cycle,” says Alessi. “New strategies to reduce fresh water use, including treatment options, are needed from both an environmental-impact and cost perspective.”

At its core, the study is about further understanding the potential impact associated with fracking and discovering how it might be lessened. The team has a few specific goals in mind:

* to analyze the chemistry and potential toxicity for flowback and produced water;

* to uncover sources of microbial biofouling in the water cycle of fracking operations; and

* to develop tools such as groundwater models to aid in the use of alternative water sources.

“There are two ends of the spectrum—people who think hydraulic fracturing should never happen and those who think fracturing operations come without environmental consequences,” he says. “My view is more pragmatic. At least in the foreseeable future, hydraulic fracturing is going to happen. While it is happening, let us work to address some of these potential concerns. Ultimately, we want to improve the water cycle and mitigate water use and the potential environmental impacts.”

The funding for the study comes from a $1-million collaborative research and development grant through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and another $1 million from Encana, which will contribute the money to the study over its planned five-year span.

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