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Water Treatment Firms See Boon in Business as Gas Drilling Spreads

While environmental groups say technology to clean up wastewater is important, it can't protect drinking water from toxic fracking fluids left underground

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 23, 2011

A new measure imposed by Pennsylvania regulators to stop natural gas drillers from disposing harmful wastewater at treatment plants has sent the industry scrambling for alternatives.

Companies specializing in the latest filtration technologies are rushing to meet the need. Some firms are already positioned with proven solutions that can handle wastewater from fracking operations. Many others are working feverishly to apply their technologies to cash in on the boom in business.

For Canadian firm , phones have been ringing nonstop since April, when the (DEP) gave Marcellus Shale gas drillers to voluntarily stop delivering salty and chemical-laced wastewater to water treatment facilities by May 19.

"Darn near every [water treatment] plant out there has been calling us in the last three weeks since oil and gas companies stopped taking water to them," Aqua-Pure chairman Richard Magnus told SolveClimate News from his office in Calgary, Alberta. "Our phones are ringing off the hook, with all those plants looking for a technology that works."

The company says its Nomad evaporator technology can turn between 75 and 95 percent of  "produced water," as the toxic drilling byproduct is known, into distilled fresh water. It can then be reused in drilling or discharged into local waterways.

For over a year, Aqua-Pure has been selling its technology to the privately owned Eureka Resources of Williamsport, Pa. Eureka discharges its pre-treated gas well water to the Williamsport Sanitary Authority.

Eureka's facility is the only gas-well water facility in the state that meets the DEP's new discharge regulations for the disposal of wastewater into Pennsylvania's streams, the company confirmed.

Environmental groups said they hope the new compliance order will help spur the development of more crucial wastewater solutions like Aqua-Pure's.

"Those new technologies that are coming online are absolutely critical," said Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of (PennFuture). "There need to be options for the drillers to use that are safe and that will guarantee Pennsylvanians that their water won't be contaminated and that their drinking water supplies will be safe."

But the technologies are not yet widely deployed, and many drillers in Pennsylvania will be left in a pinch under the new order, she continued. "Some may have to slow down or shut down their operations until they identify where they could dispose of their wastewater."

Deborah Nardone, who heads the Sierra Club's natural gas campaign in Pennsylvania, said the current inability of wastewater treatment facilities to properly treat produced water was part of the reason the organization has called for a moratorium on all new gas extraction.

"We've advanced at lightening speed to get the gas out without thinking about whether we have the technology to effectively deal with it," she said. "It is pretty evident that we don't have the technology."

Water's Fate a Major Concern

Gas drilling is soaring in Pennsylvania, due to a relatively new technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that blasts water, chemicals and sand deep underground to open up fissures in shale rock and release gas. How and where the contaminated water is dumped has become an issue of great concern.

Water Treatment Firms See Boon in Business as Gas Drilling Sprea

Hopefully those that are looking for water treatment systems will ensure that they buy a system that can get rid of their specific contamination problems. Independent certification should be at the top reasons to select a unit. A company willing to be tested and certified by a third party has confidence in it's products. It will be of no good to spend thousands of dollars on a system that does not (or partially) treat the drinking water problems.

Watertreatment Solutions

greate article. i think the water treatment becomes an essential role at globel environmental discussions. i found an interessting article from siemens about this topic. Siemens give facts and solutions for all the problems. take a look at

Fracking, Natural Gas, and Coal Plant Retirements

The demand for fracked natural gas may increase if or when coal plants are retired, either because they age out or because of EPA regulations, mainly the Mercury and Air Toxics (or "utility MACT") rule and the Clean Air Transport Rule (CATR). Some studies project that new NG demands will not increase that much in response to closures, but given concerns over the effects of fracking on groundwater and drinking water supplies, this tie between coal retirements and conversion to natural gas as an electrical energy source is crucial to watch.

The lifecycle water impact of gas is important, too

Excellent article.  One aspect of the shale gas boom and scrutiny that needs more evaluation is the full lifecycle water demands of natural gas.  The one to five million gallons needed to develop each shale gas well is significant, but the billion cubic feet plus of natural gas that comes from this well also has an impact on the overall water profile of natural gas versus its alternatives.  For many parts of the lifecycle, however, natural gas has much lower water impacts than the alternatives.  For example, a natural gas combined cycle power plant uses less than 1/3 the water of a power plant powered by coal or nuclear.  This is because the newer natural gas power plants use a different thermodynamic cycle (huge jet engines with exhaust heat recovery) than the steam cycle of coal and nuclear. In a similar fashion, using natural gas instead of electricity for water heating (a major use) will have an even more dramatic reduction in water consumption because of both the high water footprint of coal and nuclear used to produce most of the baseload electricity and the much lower overall conversion of Btus into hot water of electric water heaters versus gas.  I don't want gas drilling to pollute the rivers in the east, but let's not forget the countless lakes contaminated with mercury from coal.  In the short run, less natural gas means more coal since these two fuels are highly competitive in the electric and water heating end-use categories.

A couple questions.  Does the

A couple questions.  Does the distillation process remove radionuclides from the produced water?  It is my understanding that only reverse osmosis removes radionuclides.  Also, distillation would not remove anything like petroleum distillates which evaporate at a lower temperature than H2O.

What does the Williamsport Sanitary Authority "do" with the semi-treated water it receives from Eureka? 

Educate me (us) please!


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