A critical review of risks, characteristics, and treatment strategies for potentially toxic elements in wastewater from shale gas extraction

Yuqing Sun, Di Wang, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Linling Wang, Yong Sik Ok, Yujie Feng

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Shale gas extraction via horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (HF) has enhanced gas production worldwide, which has altered global energy markets and reduced the prices of natural gas and oil. Water management has become the most challenging issue of HF, as it demands vast amounts of freshwater and generates high volumes of complex liquid wastes contaminated by diverse potentially toxic elements at variable rates. This critical review focuses on characterizing HF wastewater and establishing strategies to mitigate environmental impacts. High prioritization was given to the constituents with mean concentrations over 10 times greater than the maximum contamination level (MCL) guidelines for drinking water. A number of potentially harmful organic compounds in HF wastewaters were identified via the risk quotient approach to predict the associated toxicity for freshwater organisms in recipient surface waters. Currently, two options for HF wastewater treatment are preferred, i.e., disposal by deep well injection or on-site re-use as a fracturing fluid. Supplementary treatment will be enforced by increasingly rigorous regulations. Partial treatment and reuse remain the preferred method for managing HF wastewater where feasible. Otherwise, advanced technologies such as membrane separation/distillation, forward osmosis, mechanical vapor compression, electrocoagulation, advanced oxidation, and adsorption-biological treatment will be required to satisfy the sustainable requirements for reuse or surface discharge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-469
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment international
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Environmental pollution
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Metals/metalloids
  • Sustainable remediation
  • Unconventional energy
  • Wastewater treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)

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