Carnegie Mellon's Kelvin Gregory gets award to study water

December 09, 2009

PITTSBURGH--Carnegie Mellon University's Kelvin Gregory is leading a research team developing a new treatment for cleaning water used in shale-gas production.

Gregory, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, working in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh engineering professors Radisav Vidic and Eric Beckman, received a $1 million grant from the Department of Energy over the next three years to develop a system to improve the use of hydraulic fracturing by drilling companies.

"The boom in drilling for natural gas across northern Pennsylvania has created a potential flood for how water is handled safely and responsibly during the drilling process,'' said Gregory.

A huge supply of natural gas is trapped in the Marcellus Shale layer that runs beneath northern Pennsylvania. Recent advances in technology - like hydraulic fracturing - have enabled recovery of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale layer. Hydraulic fracturing is a method many gas development companies use to get gas from geological structures by pumping fluids at high pressure into the ground and fracturing subsurface rock. This water returns to the surface as "flowback'' with chemicals that are potentially harmful to the environment.

Because of environmental concerns, Gregory's team is evaluating a holistic approach for treatment of flowback water which utilizes Acid Mine Drainage water to remove toxic metals from the l water and enables reuse of hydrofracturing fluids. Reuse of these fluids is expected to greatly minimize the environmental risk from flowback water and reduce the volumes of freshwater withdrawn for hydraulic fracturing.

Already one small rural Pennsylvania town has filed a lawsuit claiming one drilling company of violating state environmental laws by allowing drilling chemicals to escape from gas wells, where a technique called hydraulic fracturing is being used.

"We need to develop a system to minimize the disposal costs for gas producers and make water safe for all users,'' said Gregory, who is responsible for the development of a new remediation technology based on electrochemical cells.
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About Carnegie Mellon: Carnegie Mellon (http://www.cmu.edu) is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the fine arts. More than 11,000 students in the university's sevel schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon's main campus in the United States is in Pittsburgh, Pa. It has campuses in California's Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australia and Europe. The university is in the midst of a $1 billion comprehensive campaign, titled "Inspire Innovation: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University,'' which aims to build its endowment, support faculty, students and innovative research, and enhance the physical campus with equipment and facility improvements. For more about Carnegie Mellon, visit http://www.cmu.edu/about/.

Carnegie Mellon University

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