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Pennsylvania environmental regulator pulls plug on drilling wastewater treatment plant

August 06, 2013
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<photocredit>Jim Parkin/iStockphoto/Thinkstock</photocredit>

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has sprung into action to close a water treatment facility in Rayne Township. The plant, located on the site of the former Kay Arena, was designed to treat wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations but the two companies behind the project never managed to get it going properly, the Indiana Gazette reported.

The DEP move was confirmed for the newspaper by spokesman John Poister, who said that the state agency had launched action against Aquatic Synthesis Unlimited. Together with its Texas-based partner TERRA Services, Aquatic intended to install specialized equipment in the former rodeo arena and use proprietary processes to treat drilling wastewater. The ambitious plan also included converting part of the interior into classroom space. At that time, TERRA's engineering and R&D head John Williams said that the school would provide training to operators so that they could run similar facilities across the country.

The companies had planned for tanker trucks to arrive at the site loaded with drilling flowback water, brine water from gas wells and pit or contaminated water from other sources. The trucks would then leave about 30 minutes later, carrying tanks of treated, recycled water. During the renovation stage, some 18 months ago, Aquatic managing partner George Aubrey predicted that the facility would slash water treatment costs by one-third for a large number of haulers. He also claimed that the plant would be environmentally friendly on account of the treatment process reducing the amount of fresh water needed for new gas well fracturing projects. The companies also expected that their facility would one day begin treating acid mine drainage water from disused coal mines.

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Aquatic received conditional permit to launch operations last April but Poister said that activity never really picked up. Sporadic operations were conducted between July and August 2012, but the plant has sat idle since September. Moreover, the deal was that no water would be stored at the site or discharged from it, but an estimated one million gallons have accumulated at the idle stretch and remain there. In the fall of 2012, Aquatic attempted to remove some of the wastewater and dispose of it in injection wells, but the DEP intervened to prevent that. As Poister explained, such a move would have been in breach of the water recycling permit granted to Aquatic.

According to Poister, the parking space outside the arena had been occupied for months by rows of storage tanks on wheels. Each water tank has a capacity of 21,000 gallons and Poister said he had not been informed as to whether the water was treated or not, or how many tanks were full.

In the spring of this year, Aquatic notified the DEP that its attempt at financial reorganization had failed. This led the agency to withdraw the water treatment permit, while Aquatic forfeited the $1 million bond it had been required to post before the start of work.

Poister also said that approximately five tons of soil had been contaminated as a result of a leak occurring last fall. In July, the DEP enlisted the services of Pittsburgh-based URS Energy and Construction to clean the site. The company is currently putting together a work plan and is expected to begin the cleanup within a few weeks.

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