As fracking takes off across the country, especially in areas like North Dakota and Texas, so have toxic ponds of salty and contaminated water.

Those ponds filled with brine, similar to the recent spills in North Dakota, need to end up treated at some point and a team of researchers have a process they said can tackle the mess.

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That is because there is a way to remove 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, said researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The process takes advantage of the fact 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.

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“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 said. “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.”

Fracking has expanded to 33 states and ends up used in over 90 percent of new oil and gas wells. The process uses huge amounts of water, which causes alarm for water starved areas like California. The process also produces 100 billion gallons to as much as 800 billion gallons of wastewater a year.

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