Friday, November 6, 2009

Update on Owego Frack Fluid Treatment

On Oct. 27 Andrew Blocksom presented his plans for a frack fluid treatment plant to the Town of Owego Planning Board and was told to do a bit more homework (see Oct 28 entry). Patriot Water Treatment LLC had submitted a site plan and a "short-form" Environmental Assessment Form" (EAF).

The "short form" is indeed short - only two pages in length. Instead of the 20 or so questions about environmental impacts on the longer form, there are only seven concerning potential adverse action on the environment. At the meeting the planning board asked Patriot Water to provide more details - and complete the longer EAF - before bringing the proposal back to the board.

Which, Blocksom says, they are working on. He also says that he is working with the DEC to figure out what other permits may be required, as the type of treatment facility he hopes to build is very different from anything they've permitted. Apparently DEC is going to ask for some air quality information as well.

The biggest concern voiced by both residents and planning board members last week was the lack of detailed information about the recycling treatment process. Blocksom’s overly simplified description left people wondering what happened to the frack fluid when it entered the facility and where would the solids and salts be stored after their removal from the drilling waste fluid. People also wanted more details about the proposed impoundment and what actions Patriot Water Treatment would take in the case of a spill or a flood. Perhaps the thing that bothered people the most was Blocksom’s continual reference to frack waste as “non-hazardous” and “non-toxic” material.

When Blocksom submitted his plans to the town, he included some information about equipment developed by Aqua-Pure Ventures Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, and implied that Patriot would be leasing from that company. So I called up Aqua-Pure and spoke with Patrick Horner, the lead engineer.

The facility proposed for Taylor road will employ a process called “mechanical vapor recompression evaporation” (MVR) said Horner . He explained that Aqua-Pure already has nine well-site units using this process in Texas and they are working with Eureka Resources in Williamsport, PA to establish a permanent facility much like the one proposed for Owego.

IF Patriot does indeed use the NOMAD units built by Aqua-Pure, the frack fluid will go through a series of stages. During the first stage the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the water is adjusted. This is when metals and solids precipitate, or drop out of the frack fluid. The solids go through a de-watering process and, once they are dried into cakes, transported to an industrial waste facility.

Meanwhile, the remaining liquid is subjected to the MVR process to reduce the salts. One of the problems both Blocksom and Horner raised is that fluid with extremely high levels of salts, above 80,000 to 100,000 parts per million (ppm), are hard to distill. “And the Marcellus wells tend to have higher levels of salinity in their flowback,” Horner said.

Fluid that has low salinity, and distilled water resulting from the treatment process will be trucked back to the wells for use in fracking.

The NOMAD isn't the only type of unit available, and Aqua-Pure isn't the only company developing this technology. In a telephone conversation today, Blocksom indicated that his company is considering other companies as well. With 20 tough questions to answer and some research to do, it's not likely that Patriot Water Treatment LLC will be ready with an updated proposal in time for the November 24 planning board meeting.

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