RES Water-Butler, an Penn Township-based wastewater processor, has broken ground on a treatment plant for the shale gas industry.The $2.5 million facility is expected to open by Nov. 1, according to company president Andy Kicinski. It will accept drilling fluid, flow-back frack water and produced water from shale wells, and treat it to a point where it can be reused in future drilling.
The new facility will be in Penn Township, Butler County, and will be able to process 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of wastewater daily. XTO Energy, a division of Exxon Mobil, is the anchor client, but it will be open to other operators as well. It is the same model as another facility in New Stanton operated by Reserved Environmental Services of O’Hara, which has some of the same owners and the same management team as RES Water. “We’re going to be cookie-cuttering these things across the western part of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Kicinski said.
In fact, as the Butler plant is going up, another in Lycoming County is already permitted and scheduled to be built by 2015. Another plan to add hydraulic fracturing water processing capabilities to an existing treatment plant in Wheeling, W.Va., is under consideration, according to Nick Haden, vice president of government affairs and marketing for Reserved Environmental Services. The growth strategy is based on Reserved Environmental’s three-year experience treating frack water in New Stanton.
In April 2010, the company opened its first gas water treatment plant there. According to state records, more than 800,000 barrels of flow-back water, produced water and drilling fluids have been processed there by the end of last year. The New Stanton plant is one of about a dozen such facilities in the state, most of them in central or northeastern Pennsylvania. All of them treat water and sell it back to operators for reuse. Only one facility has a permit to discharge the treated water into Pennsylvania’s waters. Mr. Kicinski said he’s considered getting a discharge permit, which would require the facility to separate the salts in the wastewater stream, but at the moment it doesn’t make sense because there’s no market for those salts.
Wastewater treatment technology is a moving target, Mr. Haden said, and one that’s largely tied to the price of gas. When producers are able to fetch $8 per thousand cubic feet of gas, or mcf, they’re more willing to pay for sophisticated treatment that would scrub the water to a pristine, drinking quality standard. When gas is below $4 per mcf, recycling used water works just fine. “It’s all about getting into sync with the producers, and how much water they have and what they want to do with it,” Mr. Haden said.