Researchers at West Virginia University and the University of Kansas have announced a joint effort to study the impacts that the natural gas industry’s wastewater has on lakes, rivers and streams.

“You have three classes of potential contaminants: salts, organic compounds and some amount of radioactivity—mainly in the form of radium,” says Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of West Virginia’s Water Research Institute.

LISTEN: Researchers Search for New Ways to Treat Frack Wastewater

He says management of wastewater—known in the industry as “produced water”—is a growing concern. The Department of Energy estimates the industry is responsible for 20 billion barrels of produced water annually.

“A lot of the produced water that was generated over the first wave of Marcellus development was largely being consumed in new well completions,” Ziemkiewicz says. “And with the drop in gas prices, well completions have gone down, and therefore we have this extra water accumulating. We need to find a way to dispose of it, treat it or something else.”

The project is funded by a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Ziemkiewicz says the team also hopes to develop new safe handling and treatment practices, and to develop ways to avoid earthquakes when disposing of wastewater in underground injection wells.

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This story comes from our partners at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.