Treated waste proves profitable
Greater Hazleton Joint Sewer Authority's plant in Valmont Industrial Park is treating much more than what's being flushed down toilets around here.
Over the course of its 2010-2011 fiscal year, the authority generated nearly $1.2 million in revenue from an estimated 35 million to 40 million gallons of "hauled waste" treated at the plant, according to Chris Carsia, director of operations.
The material is trucked to the plant from throughout a 70-mile radius and comes from residential sand mounds and septic systems, sludge from smaller municipal sewage plants, bakery waste and "wash-down water" from meat-packing and turkey farm operations, Carsia said.
While materials trucked to the Valmont plant range from sludge from trailer parks to the contents of portable toilets, wastewater from fracking operations is not among them, he said.
When the industry was in its infancy in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Cabot Oil and Gas Co. approached the authority about treating its fracking waste.
Accepting the material would've led to a revenue windfall, but Carsia said authority officials had other ramifications to consider.
"It's one thing to have the private-sector mentality, but the bottom line is we're a municipal authority and we're also environmentalists," he said. "We have to reduce our risks."
Authority officials at one point considered amending its discharge permits with the state Department of Environmental Protection but backed out after learning that similar operations in Pittsburgh and other regions resulted in high levels of dissolved solids being released into rivers, Carsia said.
Marcellus Shale drilling has had a significant impact on Pennsylvania's economy, but with the price of natural gas dropping to $2 per thousand cubic feet, drilling may slow down.
"Companies may delay production because of the price they are getting," said Jim Rose, director of drilling engineering at EQT Production, Pittsburgh. "I am concerned the activity will dry up, then the supply will drop below demand and then price will go back up eventually."
Rose was the keynote speaker Friday at a Marcellus Shale workshop presented by the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Safety Committee at the Ramada Altoona Conference Center.
Penn Virginia Resource Partners LP said its unit will spend about $380 million to extend its natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and provide related midstream services to producers in the Marcellus shale. PVR said it will extend its existing 30-inch trunkline about 19 miles north through Lycoming County and into Tioga County, Pennsylvania, under agreements with three companies - Southwestern Energy Co, a Royal Dutch Shell unit and Range Resources Corp.
The first hands-on training center in Pennsylvania for Marcellus Shale natural gas workers, emergency responders and college students is operational.
The Energy Technology Education Center along Route 15 south of Williamsport, a collaborative effort of the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Lycoming County Department of Public Safety and the natural gas industry, was dedicated Friday.
Bromide levels are dropping in the Allegheny River and its tributaries but still are increasing downstream from four industrial wastewater-treatment plants, according to research from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
Stanley States, the authority's water-quality director, has been testing for bromide because it can help form carcinogens in drinking water....
The department in 2011 asked shale-gas drillers to stop sending wastewater to any plant that dumps treated water back into the river. Some drillers still take water to those plants, but treated water is shipped out to be used in drilling again, said Patrick Creighton, spokesman of the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition.
"So if bromide levels are still high ... there's clearly something else in play," he said.
If shale-gas drilling water isn't the source of the problem, it could be surface coal mining or shallow oil drilling, States said.