Researchers find new method to treat frack wastewater Microbes hungry for hydrocarbons

As fracking has exploded across the country, so have toxic ponds of salty and contaminated water that litter places like North Dakota and Texas.

Now, a team of researchers may have come up with process they believe will treat this wastewater, helping address one of the industry's biggest headaches.

Writing in the journal Environmental Science Water Research & Technology, the University of Colorado Boulder scientists described their invention of a way to remove both salts and organic contaminants from fracking wastewater using microbes that gobble up the latter, leading to a chemical reaction that does away with the former.

The process takes advantage of the fact that the contaminants found in the wastewater contain energy-rich hydrocarbons, the same compounds that make up oil and natural gas. The scientists introduce microbes into the waste, which eat up the hydrocarbons, producing an electric current that removes the salt.

"The beauty of the technology is that it tackles two different problems in one single system," said Zhiyong Jason Ren, a CU-Boulder associate professor of environmental and sustainability engineering and co-author of the paper.

"So far, we have been able to clean up the water so that it can used in irrigation, toilet flushing," Ren told CBS News. "It can be used for anything except drinking at this level. If we can use reuse the water, the companies don't need to buy new water and they could even make money from selling it to other users like farmers."

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