Monday, November 19, 2012

There's gotta be money to be made here

As most of you know, the US is undergoing a bit of an industrial revolution because of natural gas extraction due to hydraulic fracturing. I was interested to read this Wall Street Journal article about recycling the (huge amounts of) water used in the process:
...From energy industry giants Halliburton Corp. HAL +3.68% and Schlumberger Ltd. SLB +2.04% to smaller outfits such as Ecologix Environmental Systems LLC, companies are pursing technologies to reuse the "frack water" that comes out of wells after hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"—the process of using highly pressured water and chemicals to coax oil and gas out of shale-rock formations. 
While the recycled water can't currently be cleaned up enough for drinking or growing crops, it can be cleaned of chemicals and rock debris and reused to frack additional wells, which could sharply cut the costs that energy companies face securing and disposing of water.... 
After a well is fracked, contractors typically clean the water that flows back out of the well by filtering it or adding a chemical that attracts small solid particles, making it easier to remove these contaminants. Some companies treat water at the well, while others bring it to a facility built nearby.... 
The interest in water recycling is creating opportunities for small companies such as Select Energy Services LLC, a closey held Houston firm that said it has had a rapid rise in demand for its water-recycling services. It currently has full-scale operations in four areas including North Dakota and Colorado, up from one at the end of last year, as more companies examine recycling frack water.
It seems pretty apparent to me that old-fashioned industrial needs (like wastewater treatment, etc.) are going to be a stronger engine of job growth in the US than expected.

[Also, how long do we think that natural gas prices will stay low and oil prices will stay relatively high? If that's the case, does this mean good things or bad things for chemists employed in the petrochemical industries? I think it means good things, but maybe that's my optimism creeping out for the day.]

4 comments:

  1. Related to the final point, what does this mean for biomass utilization? How eager will companies be to invest in things like catalytic fast pyrolysis or lignin utilization if they can get hydrocarbons cheaply from oil sands, etc?

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    1. Good question. Some sort of climate change regulatory regime would dramatically change things for sure.

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  2. Hydrocarbons from fracking are relatively cheap, particularly the ethane from the natural gas, which is turned into ethylene, from which a wide variety of petrochemicals and polymers are made. However, hydrocarbons from oil sands (the tar sands of Alberta) are relatively expensive because they are expensive to process.

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  3. This is why we're at peak oil. No cheap oil? The society we've built around it will collapse. Global trade, energy intensive agriculture and large populations far from arable land (such as the Middle East), will cease to exist, perhaps violently. Alternative energy is the only alternative, which is why it must thrive.

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