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General Electric Co. is launching a mobile device aimed at helping natural gas drillers recycle water used in a controversial gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing. The truck-sized, transportable device would cut down on both the amount of fresh water used and wastewater currently trucked long distances for disposal.
The company's mobile evaporator would allow natural gas producers to reuse some of the millions of gallons of water used to extract natural gas from dense shale deposits deep underground through the so-called "fracking" process. Water is mixed with chemicals and sand and pumped at high pressure thousands of feet below the surface to create fissures in the rock and release the gas.
Fracking uses a large amount of fresh water and produces billions of gallons of wastewater annually, GE said. The company says its mobile evaporator will cut the volume of wastewater and fresh water needed by between 50 percent and 90 percent by recycling water directly at the well site. That will also lower producers' transportation and disposal costs.
The machine boils the used water, turning it into steam which then condenses into distilled water. That water can be reused for fracking and results in a much smaller volume of contaminated water for disposal.
GE's mobile evaporator, which will be available early next year, is expected to be used in regions such as North America, Europe, China and Indonesia. One of the first markets expected to use the device is the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, located in the Northeast U.S. The company's competitor in the market is Aquatech International Corp., based in Canonsburg, Pa.
The emergence of shale gas as a dependable, long-term source of natural gas has sparked a drilling frenzy in many U.S. states. But many people are concerned that their water wells are being contaminated by the process. Lawsuits have been filed and the Department of Environmental Protection has asked nine natural gas companies to voluntarily disclose the chemical components used in fracking as it studies whether the drilling practice affects drinking water and the public health.
The oil and gas industry maintains that hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for decades and that there has never been a proven case of groundwater contamination caused by fracking.
Shares of Fairfield, Conn.-based GE fell 11 cents to close at $16.25.