CREEKSIDE — Two wastewater treatment plants in Indiana County are undergoing changes in ownership, equipment and technologies to enable them to offer more services to the oil and natural gas well drilling industry, including the unconventional wells tapping into the Marcellus shale formation.
In May, Creekside-based Hart Resource Technologies and Pennsylvania Brine Treatment merged to become Fluid Recovery Services, and the newly formed company was acquired by Canonsburg-headquartered Aquatech, a global provider of water treatment technology and service solutions.
FRS has locations in Creekside and Josephine and in Franklin, Venango County, and Tioga, Tioga County. The company will be expanding with a fifth facility, in Rouseville, Venango County, that is expected to be in operation by the end of the year.
According to the company, the FRS network offers a menu of environmentally compliant and economically viable water management services including treatment, storage, transportation and disposal. The treatment technologies help oil and gas producers minimize the amount of fresh water used in the well development process and reduce the volume of wastewater that must be disposed of or treated off-site.
Pennsylvania officials in the spring of 2011 asked gas drillers to stop taking millions of gallons of drilling wastewater to water treatment plants that discharge into streams or rivers. The state’s request for voluntary cooperation from drillers had a major impact on water treatment plants that had permits to discharge treated water into streams or rivers, including Hart Resource Technologies and the Pennsylvania Brine Treatment plants.
The Creekside plant was capable of treating 63,000 gallons of water per day, but by January 2012 the plant was only receiving about 25,000 gallons per day for treatment, according to Paul Hart, the president of FRS.
Hart said then that modifications that would enable the plants not to discharge any water into the stream or be able to discharge drinking-quality water would cost $5 million or more per facility, and he and his staff were evaluating potential partners who could furnish capital for new technology.
Aquatech’s investments of capital, technology, expertise and experience will allow the Creekside plant to accept wastewater from unconventional well drilling, recycle it, remove salts and send it back for use in future drilling operations or discharge it into a stream under new, higher standards for total dissolved solids in the water.
“It will be essentially distilled water,” Hart said.
The Tioga facility opened in April, is permitted and is accepting and treating drill fluids, frack flowback, production brine and other wastewaters from exploration and production of conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells.
“Already we have permit applications submitted to the state for Creekside and Josephine,” Hart said. “Once those are approved, that allows us to put in the new equipment and the new process to both recycle the unconventional water as well as provide a disposal service for the unconventional” water.
The equipment is already built, Hart said, and the company is just waiting for the permits to be approved.
Eventually, he added, the five FRS facilities will be very similar.
“We want to make sure each facility has … similar equipment and similar services,” he said. “The idea is that a customer can make one call, even though he’s operating in different regions, and he can send his water to any one of the facilities in the three regions and know that he’s dealing with the same people, the same manifesting, the same invoicing, the same quality of treatment, the same compliance with the state.”
Hart said he has already been contacted by Marcellus well producers wanting to know when the other FRS plants will be in operation so they can recycle their wastewater there and reduce the amount of fresh water they have to buy.
“Storage is the other logistical benefit,” Hart said, adding that the Creekside plant will eventually be able to store about 200,000 gallons of recycled water.
“The idea is that, they can bring the water in but they don’t have to take it back immediately,” he said. “We will have diked storage tanks using new standards with spill-protection and secondary containment so that they can leave it for a couple of weeks until they’re ready for the water. … We also have 35 rail cars (for storage) that serve currently in the northwestern region” and can reduce water transportation costs.
In the meantime, the Creekside, Josephine and Franklin facilities are accepting water from conventional (shallow) gas well drilling, although those quantities are down from a few years ago because of depressed natural gas prices. Hart said a few conventional well producers have told him that when gas prices go back up they will resume drilling and growth.
“We just don’t know when that’s going to happen and to what degree that’s going to happen,” he said.
There are 10 employees now at the FRS plants in Creekside and Josephine.
“As soon as permits are approved we’ll immediately be hiring additional people,” Hart said.
He expects the permits to be approved in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year.
“We’re excited to be in a position to provide these services,” Hart said. “We’re already making changes to the facilities, improving water quality. But the most exciting time will be when the permits are approved and we’ll get the equipment in place and announce services for the unconventional water. … Our customers are all excited for that to happen.
“In addition to Aquatech’s investment in engineering, in experience, in their manufacturing capabilities, there are multiple people in the state and the industry who are glad to have our staff, who have over 25 years of experience, handling this water,” Hart said. “That is something many people really appreciate, knowing that even though we do want to hire new people and we do want to grow, there is that real benefit of having experienced staff. … We’ve already proven our ability to treat the water and now we’re simply growing on that experience to a new, higher standard.”
“Aquatech’s goal is to be the leader in oil and gas water management,” Venkee Sharma, Aquatech’s president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “The acquisition of FRS represents significant progress towards achieving our vision. We will continue to aggressively develop facilities with innovative technology and service solutions to meet the growing needs of our customers.”
Sharma also said the FRS network is built on a strong base and will evolve quickly by using cutting-edge, proven and environmentally responsible technologies.