December 21, 2011

Planning Commission approves fracking water treatment plant



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Review Photo/JAMES LOEWENSTEIN David Hedrick of Hydro Recovery-Bradford LP, at left, and Eric Kann of Hawbaker Engineering address the Bradford County Planning Commission on Tuesday.

NORTH TOWANDA TOWNSHIP - The Bradford County Planning Commission on Tuesday approved construction of Hydro Recovery-Bradford LP's proposed plant in Standing Stone Township, which would treat and recycle various kinds of residual waste from gas drilling sites, including flow-back water from fracking.

The approval is conditioned on Hydro Recovery addressing 12 issues raised by an engineering firm hired by the county. The commission gave Hydro Recovery 90 days to meet the conditions, which include providing a long-term maintenance plan for on-site storm water management control measures, providing a map showing the location of current and planned utility lines, and providing copies of approvals from other government agencies.

The plant would process up to 300,000 gallons per day of residual wastes from gas well sites, such as flowback water from hydraulic fracturing, said David Hedrick, a project manager with Hydro Recovery.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Standing Stone resident Sylvia Ellis spoke in favor of the construction of the plant. saying it would bring in needed tax revenue to the township.

"We need something to offset the (small) size of our tax base in Standing Stone Township," Ellis said.

"There would be more radiation from a cell phone than from this plant," Ellis also said. "(Based on what a Hydro Recovery official said), the radiation won't even go through a piece of paper."

Jack Coates, chairman of the Standing Stone Township Planning Commission, also spoke in favor of the plant, saying, "I have no issue with this plant. I think it can help not just the township, but the Bradford County and the area."

Several other Standing Stone residents at the meeting also said they were in favor of the plant, although two township residents said they were opposed to the plant.

The vote by the commission to approve the plant was unanimous.

At the beginning of the meeting, Jonathan Foster, the solicitor for the Planning Commission, said the commission is limited in its role for approving a project.

He said the commission does not evaluate whether a proposed use "is good or bad," but on the impacts it will have on a particular property.

The plant will process not just flowback water from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, but "production water" from a gas well, which would be the water that flows back out of a gas well after the bulk of the "flow-back" water has come out of the well, Hedrick said in an interview after the meeting.

Production water is water that flows back out of a well "after the first 20 days," he said.

The plant would also treat water-based drilling fluids, he said.

He said the plant would not have air discharges and would not have liquid discharges.

One township resident, Lisa Zwally-Miller said at the meeting that she will have to move her family away from the plant.

"I will not have them living where a highly polluted plant is going up. I don't care what anybody says," Zwally-Miller said.

Standing Stone resident Diane Ward said the plant's open-topped tanks for storing flow-back fluid from fracking would be a source of air pollution.

Noting that a nest for American bald eagles exists on an island in the Susquehanna River in Standing Stone Township, Ward said: "Will the vapors coming off the open tanks bring our elegant bald eagles down to a sudden watery grave? Will they drink of the radioactive and chemically laden water contained (in the tanks)?"

Before construction of the plant begins, Hydro Recovery will need a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, a highway occupancy permit from the state Department of Transportation, and a permit from the Bradford County Conservation District, Hydro Recovery officials said.

The plant would be located off U.S. Route 6, west of the township's municipal building.

One member of the Planning Commission said he was concerned that the access road would be narrowed down from 24 feet to 20 feet in an area where it passes through wetlands on the land where the plant would be constructed, saying the narrow width could cause a collision between water tanker trucks.

But Hedrick said that section of the access road would have a posted speed limit of 5 mph. He said the DEP is requiring the narrowing of the road to preserve the wetlands.

Hydro Recovery currently operates a similar treatment facility in Blossburg, Hedrick said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: