How do other cities recycle waste water from fracking? We headed cross country to find out.

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

The Current-Argus has partnered with the Solutions Journalism Network on "Waste to Water," a project that explores what industry and communities are doing to address wastewater produced by the oil and gas industry. 

Current-Argus reporter Adrian Hedden and photographer Nathan Fish of the Las Cruces Sun-News visited with communities who have experienced oil and gas booms and been forced to contemplate the challenges of extraction and wastewater. They interviewed scientists, business owners and residents of small towns all in hopes of learning how we may be able to do it better.

If the StoryMap is not appearing correctly, click here.

This travelogue documents their weeklong trip as they ventured to the Bakken region in North Dakota and the Marcellus Basin in Pennsylvania.

Marcellus Basin

Current-Argus reporter Adrian Hedden and Las Cruces Sun-News photographer Nathan Fish left North Dakota and traveled across the country to the Marcellus Basin in Pennsylvania. There, they learned about how the industry recycles and reuses its waste water, interviewing scientists and academics in the field. 

Aug. 20

From Williamsport, we drove about four hours back to the Pittsburgh area to meet with Aquatech, an international company that develops and builds mobile water treatment facilities to be deployed into the field in regions around the globe. 

The company has presence in the Middle East in Kuwait, as well as across the Marcellus and Permian basins. 

Larry Millar, the marketing director gave us a tour of their manufacturing facility where we saw how the units were built and learned how they are used for onsite water recycling and reuse. 

This method cuts down on transportation costs by reducing companies' reliance on pipelines or trucks to bring their produced water to treatment and then back to the well site. 

Aquatech hopes such advancements could make water recycling and reuse sustainable economically for companies as more and more water is used by the oil and gas industry. 

Following the meeting with Aquatech, we headed back to the airport and flew to El Paso on our way home. 

The story is expected to publish online on Aug. 28 and in print on Sept. 1. 

Aug. 19

Our day started in Williamsport. We met with Tom Murphy, director of Penn State University's Marcellus Center For Outreach and Research. He took us to the Susquehanna River which flows right through town and provides a strong sources of fresh water for hydraulic fracturing.

Pennsylvania leads the country in shale gas extraction, and Murphy took us on a tour through the country side to show where the water comes from, and where it ends up after being used to extract natural gas, mostly methane. 

Unlike North Dakota and the Bakken, the geology in Pennsylvania holds tighter underground formations that do not permit the disposal of water via injection on a large scale. 

After being used in fracking, the water is transported via pipe or truck to several water reclamation facilities around the region. 

The water is filtered, with constituents pulled out and the remaining water reused. 

Well pads and drilling rigs throughout the area were well hidden in the mountains, rolling hills and forests that define the Pennsylvania landscape. 

Tomorrow, we travel to Canonsburg, deeper into the Marcellus Basin to tour a treatment facility for oil and gas waste water and see the technology in action for ourselves. 

Aug. 18 - Williamsport, Pennsylvania

After multiple flight delays and a four-hour car ride through Amish Country from Pittsburgh to Williamsport, we arrive at our hotel for a good night's sleep before meeting with Penn State's Marcellus Outreach Center the next morning to study its water recycling projects and see the technology at work for ourselves. 

The urban-industrial feel of Pittsburgh quickly gave way to farmlands and hilly meadows as we climbed through the Pennsylvania mountains. Clouds of mist could be seen clinging to the rolling forests along the way. 

We shared the road with gas trucks and other industrial vehicles while we navigated the complex highway system and marveled at the seemingly unending vegetation. 

Williston, North Dakota

Current-Argus reporter Adrian Hedden and Las Cruces Sun-News photographer Nathan Fish are headed to Williston, North Dakota to learn how that community has weathered water issues in the midst of an oil and gas boom

Aug. 17

We took Saturday to finish up writing the North Dakota portion of the story, and finishing producing our video and photo content from Williston. 

The weather took a turn and it was raining on and off all day with the temperature barely above 60 degrees. For us desert dwellers,  this was rough. We worked and waited for the rain to stop and hopefully our trip to the lake would remain intact albeit later in the day. 

Aug. 16

Tonight, we're going back out into Williston to grab some more footage of local landmarks such as the city's water tower and grab a bit to eat at a local spot. 

We plan to check out Lake Sakakawe tomorrow morning, as it is the main source of freshwater used in hydraulic fracturing.  

The afternoon was spent transcribing notes, editing photos and videos while we prepare for our next leg of the trip to Pennsylvania's Marcellus Basin. 

The Williston Basin sits above the Dakota Formation, an underground water and sand zone that is ideal for injecting. Treating and recycling produced water presents a challenge here, experts told me, as the water that comes back up during fracking is very high in salt. 

Trucks hauling water from oil and gas sites pulled in and out constantly at White Owl's Epping Facility, in the heart of Williston basin, coming in from several drilling rigs that surrounded the facility. 

Here, about 5,500 barrels of salty waste water from oil and gas operations is pumped about 5,000 feet underground into the Inyan Kara Formation, a vast underground rock formation that holds millions of gallons of brine water not fit for human consumption. 

Staff at the site said they believe the formation is safe to inject into as it is capped on both the top and the bottom by thick layers of sandstone, preventing it from leaking into drinking water or any other zones. 

Today Adrian and Nathan are touring White Owl Energy Services Epping Facility. Check in for more on the company and its operations in North Dakota.

In the meantime, here's a sneak peek at the project via Nathan Fish.

Aug. 15

Out among the rolling hills and ranches of the northwest North Dakota countryside, we found oil and gas developments much more consolidated than the spread out oilfields in New Mexico. Pump jacks were lined up five or more at a time on "super pads" complete with on-site tank batteries and flare stacks. 

New housing developments, thousands of freshly-built units, surrounded the well pads and heavy industrial truck traffic snaked around the structures. 

Despite all the development, crickets could still be heard echoing through the grass and sunflowers lined the roads which often faded into loose gravel.  

Tomorrow, we'll visit with White Owl Energy Services, and tour its produced water disposal wells about 15 minutes outside of Williston.

Shawn Wenko was born and raised in Williston, and today he works as the executive director of Economic Development Williston, an agency owned by the City to help encourage economic growth in the community. 

He spoke of the culture of Williston, how oil first boomed here in the 1950s, then again in the '80s and how today's upswing started in about 2008. 

The city busted again in 2014, but Wenko said that was actually a needed break from the growth. Since then, Williston was developed to better accommodate the growth that started picking up again in the last couple years. 

We toured the city's significant development projects, including a $260 million airport being built just outside city limits to meet higher needs and a $100 million public works building just finished. 

Brand-new apartments, shops and other facilities were being built almost adjacent to the tank batteries, flare stacks and pump jacks that populated the outskirts of town. 

On our first morning in Williston, we headed to a local favorite, Dakota Farms for breakfast. Just like the hotel restaurant, the parking lot was full of trucks and the dining area populated by big men in hats and sunglasses, likelyn fueling up for a day in the oilfield. 

Before our meeting with the city's economic development director, we interviewed a scientist with University of North Dakota about some pilot projects on water recycling funded during the recent legislative session. 

Recycling and reusing produced water is a new concept in North Dakota, which has vast underground salt water deposits that companies usually prefer to inject waste water into. 

Waste to Water: What's the future for our water? Let's talk about it.

Aug. 14

We landed in the afternoon at Sloulin Field International Airport in Williston, North Dakota. Our intention here was to report on the similarities this city could have with Carlsbad and other boom towns. 

The drive from the airport to the hotel, about a mile down U.S. Highway 2 which runs right through town, had dense industrial truck traffic seemingly similar to the traffic experience on U.S. 285 in Carlsbad. Trucks, and lots of them. 

About the project: The Carlsbad Current-Argus, a USA Today Network newspaper, works to tell the story of oil and gas production in New Mexico and the Permian Basin for readers locally and throughout New Mexico. As part of that responsibility, reporting on how the industry intersects with water issues has become a priority for our journalists. The Carlsbad Current-Argus partnered with the Solutions Journalism Network, an international journalism organization focused on highlighting solutions and the people behind them, to document how water is used by the industry, and how the industry can survive in a region where water is a resource worth protecting.

Waste to Water:6 things we know about waste water problems

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

Nathan J. Fish can be reached at 575-541-5445, nathan.fish@gannett.com or @photojfish on Twitter.

This story has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems, www.solutionsjournalism.org.

Solutions Journalism Network