Private firms poised to treat wastewater
By Joe Napsha, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Companies whose specialty is treating wastewater are hoping for a surge of business after today's deadline for natural gas drillers to voluntarily stop sending their toxic flowback from hydraulic fracturing to publicly owned treatment plants.
"It's a game changer. My phone is ringing off the hook," said David Grottenthaler, general manager of Kroff Well Services Inc. on Pittsburgh's North Side.
"The diluters and the dumpers (of drilling wastewater) are done," Grottenthaler said, referring to an earlier practice of relying on streams and rivers to dilute metals and salts in drilling wastewater that flows back to the surface after fracturing Marcellus shale that holds natural gas deep underground.
Kroff Well Services and Reserved Environmental Services LLC in Hempfield in Westmoreland County are among at least five private companies in the region offering alternatives to treating millions of gallons of wastewater at publicly owned treatment plants. Aquatech International Corp. in Cecil; Comtech Industries Inc. in South Franklin in Washington County; and Siemens Water Technologies in Marshall also are players in yet another line of business that is benefiting from Pennsylvania's natural gas boom.
Reserved Environmental, which treats wastewater at a plant near the former Sony Corp. television factory, has been "getting quite a few inquiries and getting people under contract," said CEO Andrew Kicinski.
Companies like Kroff and Reserved Environmental could capture more business after the state Department of Environmental Protection asked drillers to voluntarily stop sending wastewater to 16 publicly owned treatment plants.
The state issued the request in April after the federal Environmental Protection Agency, scientists and environmental groups raised concerns that municipal treatment plants could not remove all bromides, chlorides, minerals and metals before discharging treated wastewater into state waterways.
Sewage treatment plants in the state received 2.7 million barrels of the flowback water, the equivalent of 116 million gallons, in the last six months of 2010, according to state records. Data are not yet available for this year, said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday.
Drillers have not indicated there is a lack of capacity for treating wastewater, said Travis Windle, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Cecil-based trade group representing natural gas producers and related businesses. A single well can use between 3 million and 5 million gallons of water in the fracturing process, but only about 20 percent may return to the surface prior to the well's producing gas, industry experts say.
"We don't need the publicly operated treatment plants to treat the Marcellus shale wastewater," Reserved Environmental's Kicinski said.
For drillers seeking treatment options, "there may be a crunch right now ... but it's more important that the state stopped a public health hazard. It stopped the drillers from sending fracking water to plants not equipped to receive the polluted water," said Jan Jarrett, president of Penn Future, a statewide environmental organization with offices in Pittsburgh.
Even with private companies offering technology to remove pollution, Myron Arnowitt, director of Pennsylvania Clean Water Action, said he is concerned that "there is a problem in Pennsylvania because there's very little capacity for removing all of the wastewater." Some companies are trucking wastewater to Ohio, where it is injected into deep wells, Arnowitt said.
Drillers such as Range Resources Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Cabot Oil & Gas Co. said they treat their wastewater and reuse it in their operations.
Consol Energy Inc., a coal and gas producer in Cecil, recycles nearly 100 percent of the flowback from its fracturing operations, spokeswoman Laural Ziemba said.
In cases in which the water has been recycled to the point where it cannot effectively be used to fracture another well, Consol sends it "for safe disposal in regulated, deep injection wells," Ziemba said.
Range Resources recycles more than 90 percent of its wastewater, spokesman Matt Pitzarella said.
Range uses a mobile system that treats the water to remove metals and then blends it with fresh water to lower the salt content to about 1 percent, Pitzarella said. Some of the water is trucked to facilities such as Reserved Environmental Services for treatment, he said.
Kroff, like other companies, removes pollutants that would hamper drilling operations when it is reused, Grottenthaler said.
Reserved Environmental's system removes irons, metals, barium, salts, organic matter and other minerals, Kicinski said. Its system does not, however, lower total dissolved solids in the water to a level where it can be treated in a publicly owned sewage plant and discharged into the public waterways, he said.
The Hempfield plant has the capacity to treat about 1.3 million gallons of wastewater daily, Kicinski said, but its current utilization is about 40 percent.
"I think the producers are holding the water long on site, recycling it two to three times until it can't be used," Kicinski said.
Siemens Water Technologies sold a treatment system it developed to a Tioga County treatment plant that treats wastewater so it can be used on the next drilling job, said Kevin Warheit, product manager at Siemens' office in Marshall. The Hydro Recovery LP treatment plant in Blossburg will start the Siemens system in the next few weeks, Warheit said.
Siemens' chemical precipitation process and dewatering technology will remove barium, iron and other metals to less than one part per million and remove total dissolved solids in the water to less than 100 parts per million. Siemens has been working on the technology for nearly three years, Warheit said.
Aquatech International's technology can remove some of the major contaminants so drilling wastewater can be reused by the drillers, or it can be processed through a second stage that removes dissolved solids, said Devesh Mittal, vice president of industrial solutions for Aquatech.
"We are continuously receiving inquiries, working with the gas industry and some of the treatment plants," Mittal said.
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