Recycling Frack Waste in PA? Shout Eureka!

[UPDATE: April 5, 2012]:  Eureka Resources Supports New Pennsylvania DEP Standards Encouraging Reuse-of-Wastewater From Oil and Gas Sites

[Original Post]:  As of May, 2011, the PA Department of Environmental Protection has insisted that industrial gas drillers in Pennsylvania “stop sending toxic wastewater to 15 treatment plants unequipped to purify it.” There has been little mention of the millions of gallons of untreated frack waste that were released prior to the dumping deadline but hey, as the saying goes, it’s water under the bridge, right?

Seemingly overnight, gas drillers such as Chesapeake Energy began claiming that they now re-use or recycle 100% of their hydrofracking flowback. Other drilling companies have proffered similarly impressive percentages. Wow. That’s one nimble industry! In the space of a mere 28 days – not 28 months – they were able to revamp their industrial waste-stream and totally eliminate one of environmentalists’ biggest concerns. Amazing.

Water re-use has been key to substantiating the gas drillers’ claims.

Turns out, necessity really is the mother of invention, and companies operating in the Marcellus have learned that re-using frack flowback (the briny fluid which returns to the surface, approximately 40% of the total fluid volume pumped down) doesn’t hurt production of subsequent wells one bit. Actually, it works fine. That’s good news, however, it doesn’t alleviate their need to pull massive volumes of fresh water from the aquifer in the first place – usually about 100,000 gallons a day during the weeks when the first wells are being actively fracked. Nor does it eliminate the carcinogenic VOCs evaporating off the open holding pools. Nor does it address the need to ultimately dispose of the solid wastes and sludges separated out by the “purifying” process.

“No one wants to admit it, but at some point, even with reuse of this water, you have to confront the disposal question,” said Brent Halldorson, chief operating officer of Aqua-Pure/Fountain Quail Water Management, adding that the wastewater contains barium, strontium and radioactive elements that need to be removed. SOURCE: Ian Urbina, The New York Times

Whatever you think of the NYT’s widely criticized “Drilling Down” series, one still has to wonder, how does shale gas wastewater get recycled in Pennsylvania? Who is currently “equipped to purify” it? Where do we send the residual waste? And is it true that industrial waste disposal remains largely un-regulated in our state? It is clear that as early as 2008, until May 2011, treatment facilities in Pennsylvania had been accepting frack flowback without manifesting the wastes they were handling. Given all these questions, it’s difficult to imagine how the DEP can suddenly ensure that wastewater recyclers operating upstream of water supplies for major population centers are truly able to keep downstream tap water safe.

The Wastewater Recycling Capital of PA

Williamsport is a town of over 30,000 in Central PA. It sits on the banks of the meandering Western Branch of the Susquehanna River amidst a lush landscape of high elevation, forested wetlands. Fresh water here flows all the way downstate to fill the Chesapeake Bay. These days, it has become the place to recycle hydrofracking waste. So much so, named the Susquehanna the Most Endangered River of 2011.

Eureka Resources Inc., the local wastewater treatment facility operator, plans to open at least two more “near field” wastewater recycling plants in the region. Business is booming, along with the truck traffic, but the new plants are supposed to improve that, too.

“At Eureka Resources, our treatment process can be broken down into two main parts: pretreatment and distillation. After the raw gas well water is received and tested by employees, it is put through our pretreatment process. This involves pH adjustment and clarification to remove solids and heavy metals from the water. The pretreated water is held in storage tanks until it is processed through our NOMAD Vapor Compression Evaporator Distillers. The resulting effluent is clean distilled water ready for immediate reuse by our customers.” SOURCE:

Purification equipment for Eureka’s facilities is furnished by Aqua-Pure/Fountain Quail, a water management corporation headquartered in Canada and Texas. Fresh from honing their expertise in the Barnett shale, and armed with the exclusive rights to a proprietary new filter technology developed in Norway, Aqua-Pure/Fountain Quail and their strategic partners are aiming to become the exclusive gas wastewater recyclers in Northeastern PA.

“In June 2010, Eureka Resources opened its expanded 60,000-square-foot water treatment facility in Williamsport, PA, in partnership with Fountain Quail. The operation now recycles up to 300,000 gallons of wastewater every day from customers that include Range Resources, XTO Energy and Chesapeake Energy.” SOURCE:

So, for an $18 million lease, plus future royalties, Aqua-Pure outfitted the Williamsport Eureka waste treatment facility with two brand new (we hope) recycling units called The Nomad 2000. Basically a massive evaporator, Nomad units feature the sophisticated, proprietary Salsnes filter technology, which involves “an endless mesh screen, moving upwards in a continual motion, concurrent with the influent flow.” SOURCE:

Mr. Halldorson of Aqua-Pure also emphasized to The New York Times that “he had not seen high radioactivity readings at the plant he operates in Williamsport, Pa. He said he firmly believed in the benefits of recycling — to reduce the waste produced and water used and to help promote a shift toward natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal for producing electricity. ‘But there still needs to be a candid discussion, and there needs to be accountability about where even the recycled wastewater is going’ he added.” SOURCE: The New York Times

Pennsylvania is a market ripe for rapid, deep expansion by companies like Eureka and Aqua-Pure/Fountain Quail. The latter has even co-authored a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Kansas-based Layne Christensen Company, another player in the North American industrial wastewater management biz.

The Eureka plant is particularly productive because the Marcellus geology is uniquely rich and varied, and so too are the challenges facing flowback recyclers here. Apparently, the range of toxins found in Marcellus wastewater run the full gamut and, therefore, it tends to require both onsite treatment for TSS Removal and central treatment for TDS Removal, among other things. And then there’s that pesky problem of radioactivity, which occurs naturally in our shale and, as it turns out, is especially high near gas drilling sweet spots. So wastewater treatment facilities have to keep a eye out for radioactive isotopes, too. According Fountain Quail’s website, successfully purifying hydrofracking flowback produced in the Marcellus calls for the full range of their services, including: Filtration, DAF, Oil Separation (walnut shell filters, hydrocyclones), Clarifiers, Evaporators, Crystallizers, Waste Heat Systems (using pipeline compressor heat), Softeners, Precipitation, Membranes (UF, RO, EDR).

Then, the water will be safe for discharge back into rivers and waterways, and once again fit for human consumption. It seems like a lot of work, though, and you’d think it would require a ton of energy to run all those big machines, yet Aqua-Pure assures us that the Nomad 2000 uses, per gallon, a mere fraction of the energy needed to boil that same gallon of water on my kitchen stove. What a relief.


Get To Know: Eureka Resources, LLC

Eureka Resources, LLC is a gas well water treatment facility located in Williamsport, Pa. We treat incoming raw gas well water to meet in place standards for discharge and reuse in the gas well exploration and hydrofracturing industry. We are currently the only facility in Pennsylvania to use vapor distillation units (NOMADS) to recover as much as 85 percent distilled water from the pretreated gas well water. This process allows clean fresh water to be returned to the customer, lessening the need to draw water from other sources and cut down on client’s transportation costs.   SOURCE:

Get To Know: Aqua-Pure Ventures
Aqua-Pure is a leading provider of municipal and oil and gas exploration and development wastewater services and technology solutions that ensure environmental sustainability through the utilization of patented and proprietary technologies. The corporation’s common shares are listed on the TSX Venture Exchange under the trading symbol: “AQE”

Get To Know: Fountain Quail Water Management
Fountain Quail Water Management, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is the oilfield-services arm of Aqua-Pure Ventures. Fountain Quail strives to provide low-cost, practical recycling alternatives for shale gas producers. The company is the global leader in recycling shale gas flowback and produced water into fresh water for re-use. Fountain Quail utilizes breakthrough evaporator technology developed and process-patented by its Canadian-based parent company, Aqua-Pure Ventures. The Aqua-Pure evaporator is more compact and efficient than competitive systems. These advantages have led to the development of the skid-mounted NOMAD system for oilfield customers that can benefit from mobile treatment solutions.

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7 Responses to “Recycling Frack Waste in PA? Shout Eureka!”

  1. Eric Belcastro Says:

    Dr. Ingraffea on “Recycling”

    Good article, thank you for sharing!

  2. food waste disposer Says:

    Thanks , I’ve just been searching for information about this subject for ages and yours is the greatest I’ve came upon till now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you positive concerning the source?

  3. keeptapwatersafe Says:

    The only thing I’m absolutely positive about, Food Waste Disposer, is that the frack waste recycling industry is still very much in its infancy. That’s why it’s so difficult to find information about it.

    I recently learned that Norway – a big investor in recycling technology – is seeking to import liquified Marcellus shale gas. They are one of the few countries in the world with a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Import facility. We will essentially be exporting the benefit of using gas while bearing all the environmental hazards. The LNG supply chain tends to be more energy and greenhouse gas intensive than the supply chain for pipeline gas, because of the extra processing steps.

  4. garbage disposal Says:

    Hi There Keeptapwatersafe,
    Thanks for that, Recycled plastic constructed goods have develop into an critical problem for municipal authorities and state authorities in the region. Discarded plastic waste is nick called as “white pollution”. What makes this material serious squander item is its skill to break into harmful bits and then contaminate soil and h2o consequently entering back again into the meals chain.
    Keep up the good work

  5. Una Says:

    If you live in a region where water is very contaminated,
    it would be wise to consider another solution such as differing filters that you can fit around your home (shower filter, faucet filter or even
    a whole house filtration system which would ensure all of your water is as a good as getting it direct from one of natures springs.
    This is because many distillers do not require any assembly or installation.
    Instead, shop smart and get a system that removes all the bad stuff while keeping the
    essential minerals nature intended for us to consume in fresh drinking water.

  6. Liz Rosenbaum Says:

    I try to filter out advertisements and product promotions, Una, but if you know of a system that can filter heavy metals, radon, benzene, arsenic, chloramine, diesel etc. please share!

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