A Case For Treatment [Citizens Voice, Wilkes-Barre, PA]

By: Elizabeth Skraptis, Staff Writer, on Sunday, March 27, 2011

SCRANTON - Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority officials are trying to decide if a natural gas wastewater treatment facility would be a good fit for the region.

The authority has a non-binding agreement with Cate Street Capital/Red Desert to study building a plant to purify up to a million gallons of chemical and salt-laden water a day from Northeastern Pennsylvania's natural gas wells, to be reused for drilling more wells.

"You can be against drilling, but they're doing it now, and the water has to be treated somewhere," said John Minora of Pennsylvania Northeast Aqua Resources, the consultant hired by WVSA for the project.

He found "there's a tremendous need that's only going to become greater and greater," and that treatment can be done in a way profitable for taxpayers. He said WVSA could generate $3 million to $5 million a year, which can help prevent increases or even lower customer rates.

Cate Street Capital, a New Hampshire-based private equity firm, would pick up the $8 million to $10 million cost of construction, so it wouldn't cost the authority anything, Minora said. The facility would be constructed on its grounds in Hanover Township, on vacant acreage next to the complex off WVSA Drive.

Contrary to rumors, the authority is not buying neighboring properties, and is not taking any of them "through eminent domain or condemnation or anything else," Minora said.

"We were approached by some business owners recently who were given misleading information about WVSA plans to purchase businesses and property near the intersection of the Sans Souci Parkway and Main Road/Breaker Road," authority Director of Administration and Planning Rob Krehely said in an e-mail. "This was never under consideration."

Cate Street representatives are coming to the authority this week to assess the site, Minora said. The process is mutual: WVSA officials will be scrutinizing Cate Street to see if it can do what it claims.

"There's a certain amount of studying that has to be done by us and by Cate Street/Red Desert," Minora said. "But we want to do it right, and we want to do it safely."

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-treated water thousands of feet underground to open cracks in the shale and release the gas. The water comes back up, about 20 percent at first, then the rest over the next four or five years. When it does, it's extremely saline - 10 times saltier than sea water - and has picked up various amounts of heavy metals, minerals, naturally occurring radioactive material such as radon and other contaminants.

Purifying the frack water would be a two-step process, Minora said. First heavy metals and other solids will be removed, leaving brine water. That can be mixed with treated wastewater from the sanitary authority and resold to natural gas companies for reuse.

The waste removed from the water would be taken to a state-approved landfill.

"None of this waste is (hazardous materials) or toxic," Minora said. He said he has recently been contacted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which wants to work with WVSA on the project.

The approximately 15 percent of the water not in demand for drilling or too salty to reuse would be subjected to the second part of the treatment process, reverse osmosis, which involves forcing it through filters and distilling it.

Reverse osmosis is energy-intensive, which is why Minora believes the project would be a good fit because currently wasted heat generated in the sanitary authority's incinerator could be used to get the water to the required temperature.

Any water released into the Susquehanna River would be this distilled water, which Minora said is "cleaner than drinking water."

Truck traffic concerns

The proposed frack water treatment plant would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Minora estimates at peak demand, there could be 10 to 12 trucks an hour coming to the facility.

"If everything is perfect, that's the high number," he said.

But that has raised traffic concerns. The authority is looking at ways to re-route trucks coming to the WVSA property so they would not go through any residential neighborhoods or past Lyndwood Elementary.

Minora said one proposed route is a new road off Fellows Avenue to Breaker Road to WVSA Drive.

Which route trucks would come from Minora couldn't say. Possibly Interstate 81, Route 29 or, if they're from Susquehanna County, via Route 309 and the Cross Valley Expressway, he said.

"I don't think I could tell a trucker which state highway to use," Minora said, but noted, "Those are state highways that are equipped to handle that kind of traffic."

State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, said constituents calling his office are primarily worried about the number of trucks and what routes they might take. He said if they come down Route 29 from the north, it would affect a large part of his district, which includes most of the West Side, Nanticoke and Hanover Township areas.

Plymouth resident Scott Cannon, a member of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, is apprehensive about that.

"If you don't know your way around, if you're from out of town, you're going to pop it in the GPS and take whatever route they give you," he said. "It could come down Wyoming Avenue over the Carey Avenue Bridge."

Mullery has seen traffic and wear on roads in counties with gas drilling activity, but safety is his biggest concern. He said he doesn't know enough about what's in the frack water to be comfortable with all those trucks going through his district.

Mullery cited "Operation FracNET," conducted March 14 and 15 by state police, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The agencies inspected 731 commercial trucks in the Marcellus Shale area, taking 131 trucks and 14 drivers out of service, and issuing 421 traffic citations and 824 written warnings, according to a statement by state police Commissioner Frank Noonan. DEP also issued 35 citations and 13 written warnings.

"If those are the types of trucks that will be coming through my legislative district, I will be just as concerned as my constituents," Mullery said, noting, "It is a valid and legitimate concern for people to have."

Mullery has arranged a meeting with WVSA representatives for a briefing. His chief of staff is also looking into getting him a tour of a plant similar to the one that could be built in Hanover Township.

"It's great to see studies and plans," Mullery said, but "I'd rather see it personally."

Contact Person: Elizabeth Skraptis, Staff Writer 
Contact Email: eskrapits@citizensvoice.com