Firms Want to Recycle Water Used in Drilling

City Industrial Park considered for plant

Morgantown Dominion Post
25 May 2011
By David Beard

Two Pittsburgh-based companies are teaming to create a fixed frac water recycling facility in the Morgantown Industrial Park.

American Environmental Services (AES) operates a commercial treatment, storage and disposal facility for hazardous and nonhazardous wastes in the park. Sweetwater Resources develops processes for the treatment of flowback, production and drilling pit water.

Sweetwater plans to install a permanent version of its FORT system — Flowback On-Site Recycling Technology — inside the AES facility, said Sweetwater spokesman Michael Havelka. Sweetwater already employs FORT technology in mobile trailers for use at well pads.

Morgantown Utility Board MUB) General Manager Tim Ball said he has been following the project’s developments. Before AES Sweetwater can proceed, it must submit a description of its FORT process to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which will determine if a wastewater discharge permit is needed.

Ball said it appears unlikely the DEP will require a discharge permit because AES Sweetwater will be a “zero discharge facility.”

DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said they have nothing in writing yet. “Until we do, we don’t have anything to act upon.”

Northeast Natural Energy is preparing to drill two horizontal Marcellus wells in the park, within view of the AES Sweetwater facility. Company officials said the two endeavors aren’t connected.


The FORT process

Havelka said the recycling site has been prepped, but construction hasn’t begun. In the interim, Sweetwater will bring one of its FORT trailers to the site, within the next day or so, and hold a demonstration for potential customers in the coming weeks.

At full production capacity, Havelka said, the plant will process 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) a day. It will be able to offload and reload three to four water tankers simultaneously.

Havelka said large tankers can hold about 5,000 gallons, while the smaller ones hold about 2,000.

The original goal was to have the fixed site operating at 50 percent by July, but because of various factors that’s “slipping just a little.”

The FORT process removes contaminants — suspended solids, free and dissolved hydrocarbons and various metals — from the frac waters. The solids are treated for off-site disposal at permitted landfills. The treated water can be reused at another frac job.

Havelka said this process keeps used frac water out of streams and rivers, and out of deep injection wells — it can be recycled indefinitely.

He offered an illustration, choosing some arbitrary numbers. Say a frac job uses 5 million gallons of water. Maybe 1 million gallons — flowback — comes back up and is treated. That 1 million is mixed with 4 million more of fresh water for the next job. A million of flowback is available to repeat the process.

“The folks with the problem are those who reuse it without treatment,” Havelka said. The contaminants become concentrated and it becomes unusable, and has to be injected in deep wells.

FORT does not remove total dissolved solids (TDS) from the frac water, because the recycled water gets diluted with the fresh and doesn’t affect the fracking process.

That helps eliminate stream pollution, he said. “If you can’t treat the salt, it shouldn’t go into the river.”

Havelka said the AES site wasn’t chosen because of Northeast’s drilling plans. The site coincidence was an “absolute serendipity.” They have no relationship with Northeast, and have had no conversations with them, though AES Sweetwater is “definitely interested. It makes all the sense in the world.”

Northeast President Michael John said he’s aware of the plans for the plant, and the company is considering it and other available alternatives for handling its water. “I can’t say we’re far enough along to say definitely. We’re encouraged by the fact they’re there.”


MUB’s view

Ball said the DEP will share a copy of the AES Sweetwater documents with MUB when it receives them, and MUB will review them and make comments if appropriate.

AES Sweetwater must supply a spill prevention and containment plan, Ball said, and that interests MUB since its public drinking water intake is downstream of the industrial park.

While the plant means some additional industrial waste coming into the park, Ball said, the plant appears to be a good thing if everything is done correctly. “Any time there is a proper disposal method easily available to industry, it’s less temptation to make illegal disposals.”