Tuesday, February 24, 2009

City of Clinton may have found a way to clean and recycle water from Fayetteville shale gasp-drilling rigs

Mayor: Method found to purify drilling water
Posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2009
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/adg/News/253313/
Using an idle sewer plant in town, the city of Clinton has found a way to recycle contaminated water used in the natural-gas drilling process, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has learned.

"We have a process that will clean all the drill wastewater," Clinton Mayor Roger Rorie said Monday evening.

In a meeting next week, the mayor, along with Siemens Water Technologies representatives, will present to four of the gas companies drilling in the Fayetteville Shale findings from recent tests the city conducted on water taken from drilling sites. Several elected officials also have been invited.

"We feel like we have the answer for the Fayetteville Shale," Rorie said.

The Fayetteville Shale is a geologic formation where companies are drilling for natural gas in north-central Arkansas.

Natural-gas companies use millions of gallons of water to drill each well in the formation and to break up the rock to release the gas. Some wastewater already is being spread on vacant land in a process called land application or land farming.

Other wastewater from drilling is too salty or laden with chemicals and must be pumped into injection disposal wells. Arkansas, because it's newer to the shale business, lacks infrastructure to adequately process both types of drilling water.

Teresa Marks, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said Monday evening that her agency will have to evaluate several things before the city could begin the water-recycling process.

"That would be wonderful if that could happen because certainly recycling that water would be a wonderful thing for the environment," Marks said. "This may be a viable option, but what we'll have to do is look at the law, the terms of [the city's] permit and the technology they have, to see if they can successfully treat what's in that ... water."

Rorie said his city does not yet have a contract with any drilling companies and has not been paid by any of the companies to conduct the tests. But if the companies and the state approve the idea, Rorie said, the city could move equipment for the process into the sewer plant within days.

The city stands to gain a substantial amount of money if the process is given the go-ahead, though Rorie said he isn't pushing the idea for the city to "get rich." Treating the wastewater could help the city keep its drinking-water supply safe, he said.

The sewer plant, one of two in the city, has been idle since October. It was dedicated to processing waste from the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant until it closed in Oct. 10.

Because the plant offered hundreds of manufacturing jobs, the city took out millions of dollars in debt to build the sewer plant and a 16-inch waterline to serve Pilgrim's. In 2007 alone, the city spent $140,000 upgrading the sewage plant.

Since the processing plant closed, the city has been losing about $30,000 a month in water and sewer revenue. To cope, the city laid off one employee and would have laid off another had he not retired.

The city has lost all of its major manufacturing companies over the past few years. Rorie believes that this water-treatment process would create 50 to 60 new jobs in Clinton.

Natural-gas companies drilling in the area gave the city permission to take water samples of "flow back" from drilling sites. Using filtering equipment from Siemens, the city processed the water at its idle sewer plant.

Samples of the water were pulled out during three different stages of treatment and sent to the private lab, Environmental Service Co.

"We've got potable water," Rorie said.

The city hopes to recycle 80 of every 100 gallons of water it treats by selling it back to the gas-drilling companies.

The rest, he said, would go into injection wells.

A spokesman for Chesapeake Energy said Monday night that the company has been in informal talks with Rorie about the possible water recycling.

"We look forward to learning more," spokesman Mark Raines said.

A spokesman for Southwestern Energy Co. did not return a call for comment.

Asked what gas company officials have said to him about the idea, Rorie said, "They have been jumping up and down wanting to know when we will be in operation."

Information for this article was contributed by Laura Stevens of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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