An ambitious plan to convert a former rodeo arena in Rayne Township into a state-of-the-art water treatment facility to serve the oil and natural gas drilling industry has run afoul of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and apparently is collapsing.
DEP spokesman John Poister confirmed Friday that the state environmental agency has initiated a bond forfeiture, closure and cleanup action against Aquatic Synthesis Unlimited, the firm that two years ago began renovating the former Kay Arena at the north end of the Route 119 Bypass.
Aquatic Synthesis Unlimited, and its partner company, TERRA Services, of Irving, Texas, proposed to use specialized equipment and proprietary processes at the arena to treat wastewater from natural gas and oil drilling operations, making it possible to reuse the water for more hydraulic fracturing jobs instead of using fresh water.
The two companies also renovated part of the arena’s interior to be classroom space. John Williams, TERRA’s director of engineering, research and development, said operators would be trained at the school in the arena to run similar water treatment plants around the nation.
Under the plan, tanker trucks were to arrive at the arena plant loaded with flowback water from drilling operations, brine water from producing gas wells, pit water or contaminated water from other sources, and then leave the plant with a tank of treated, recycled water — all in about 30 minutes.
George Aubrey, the managing partner of Aquatic Synthesis Unlimited, projected 18 months ago during the renovation phase that the plant would cut water treatment expenses for many haulers by a third and would be environmentally friendly because the treatment process would reduce the amount of fresh water that would have to be purchased for the next gas well fracturing operation.
It was also projected the plant would eventually accept and treat acid mine drainage water from abandoned coal mines.
DEP in April 2012 issued a conditional permit for Aquatic Synthesis Unlimited to start operations.
“They could never get going,” Poister said. “They were only able to operate sporadically between July and August” of last year and the facility has been idle since September.
And although the plan was that no water would be stored at or discharged from the site, an estimated 1 million gallons of water accumulated and remains at the dormant plant, according to Poister.
The company last fall tried to transport some of the wastewater away for disposal in injection wells.
“We stopped that,” Poister said, because it violated the permit granted for recycling water.
Rows of red water storage tanks on wheels, each with a capacity of 21,000 gallons, have been parked around the outside of the arena for months. Poister did not know how many of the tanks contained water or if the water was treated or untreated.
He said there was a leak at the site last fall and about 5 tons of soil were contaminated and remains at the site.
Poister said Aquatic Synthesis Unlimited officers told DEP this spring that the company’s efforts to reorganize financially had failed.
DEP then revoked the company’s water treatment permit and the company forfeited a $1 million bond it had been required to post before work started.
DEP in July hired URS Energy and Construction of Pittsburgh to start a cleanup of the arena site. URS is now preparing a work plan and remediation operations should begin in a few weeks.
Poister described the needed cleanup work as “considerable.” In addition to removing the 1 million gallons of water and tanks, there is also a containment area with a liner that will have to be removed.
Aubrey and Williams did not return calls seeking comment on the plant’s closing.
Leo Kay, the original developer of the arena complex, could not be reached for comment.
PHOTO: Aquatic Synthesis set up shop at the former Kay Arena to treat wastewater from gas well drilling operations. It is shown here Jan. 19, 2012.