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.