Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Owego Town Planning Board to Patriot Water: You've Got Work to Do

About 50 residents showed up to the Town of Owego Planning Board meeting last night (Oct. 27) to learn more about the Patriot Water Treatment LLC plans for recycling frack fluid. The planning board, which is the lead agency for this project, has the authority to approve or reject the site plan. Last night, after listening to the company's proposal and an hour or more of citizen comments, the board decided that they needed more information before making a decision. They gave Andrew Blocksom, one of the Patriot Water owners, a long list of items they'd like more information on by the next meeting.

Seems like the biggest issue that both residents and planning board had was the lack of detailed information: What exactly is this process of cleaning up the frack waste? Where will the recycled water go? What happens if there is a spill or a flood? Will there be open pits (impoundments) holding frack fluid? And why can't we find your company on the internet?

Turns out Patriot Water Treatment LLC is brand-spankin' new, created only recently by three guys who see the potential in offering a service to the gas companies. They'll be leasing the water treatment equipment from Aqua Pure, a company out of Calgary, Canada that is on the web. The process, Andy explained to me after the meeting, is one that precipitates out the heavy metals and solids (which get transported to a proper waste facility) and then - if the remaining water is not too salty or doesn't have too high a level of TDS (total dissolved solids) - they send it through a distilling process and the "clean" water is trucked back to the wells to re-use for fracking. The brine (wastewater) is sent to an injection well in Ohio - at least for now. (Fortuna has a permit to test a "non-producing" gas well in Van Etten for potential as an injection well - more on that later.)

Aside from the fact that this company is new, and that Andy gave what he called his "kindergarten" presentation [and clearly not enough details to satisfy the locals and the planning board], what really bothered folks was that he constantly said that the frack waste was "not hazardous" and "not toxic". The other issue was the amount of truck traffic - 4 trucks/hour, 24 hours/day, 7 days a week - routed up and down a steep hill near through residential areas.

"Why not follow the regular truck route through town?" asked one guy. Another wanted to know whether the planning board could put a route restriction on the trucks, and quite a few expressed concern about the taxpayers underwriting the road maintenance for repairs, as each truck will weigh something on the order of 80,000 pounds.
So, where will this treatment facility go? On the site of the old Chevy dealership on Taylor Road. This is zoned an "industrial" area, and sure enough there are a bunch of industries there already: Sanmina, Lockheed, Moore's Tires and service center, a bowling alley, a wastewater treatment plant and a small electrical business. There are also four churches and a preschool within a couple minute walk from the site, and the nearest residence is a mere 500 feet from the edge of the pavement, where the frack tanks will be lined up - not 1500 feet as stated a week earlier at the county planning board meeting. As some folks pointed out last night, the area is already zoned industrial, and the idea of recycling frack waste sounds good; it might reduce the amount of water pumped out of the local rivers and streams.

But, as the planning board said last night: there are a lot of unanswered questions.

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