Following a presentation at the African American Chamber of Commerce April PowerBreakfast, EQT Vice President for Commercial Operations Cliff Baker noted that the refusal of local water authorities to accept Marcellus “frack” water for treatment, actually creates an opportunity for the right company to join the Marcellus boom.
“Are there companies out there who do water treatment that can do this? You bet there are,” he said. “I expect my phone will be ringing if it isn’t already.”
|A SMALL BUSINESS “SOLUTION”—Cosmos Technologies owner Frederick Douglas plays a video of his catalytic process for treating water used in Marcellus shale gas mining. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)
Well, Baker’s phone did ring—as did those in offices of fellow Marcellus drillers Range Resources and Chesapeake Energy—and on the other end was Cosmos Technologies founder Frederick Douglas, willing to discuss the application of his proprietary process for Marcellus water treatment.
“Water treatment is a major concern for the drillers because each well uses about 4 million gallons, with about 2 million gallons coming back that needs to be treated,” he said. “Our process can treat 200,000 gallons a day at a cost of about $0.15 per gallon. So it is very cost effective.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is the process whereby water with certain additives is injected into gas-bearing shale formations more than a mile below ground to break up the rock and release the natural gas. The Marcellus formation under Pennsylvania contains an estimated 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It is the second largest such formation yet discovered.
However, the water used in the process brings up more than just gas from the depths.
“The additives in the various fracking recipes are largely benign, the real problem is the heavy metals and soluble salts in the water,” Douglas said. “The problem with these metals—barium, strontium, calcium, magnesium and iron, for instance—is that conventional processes to remove one tends to keep the others dissolved. Our process removes this cocktail of metals in two steps, regardless of their concentrations.”
Cosmos, he said, spent about $100,000 during the last year developing the process. Douglas, a chemical engineer with more than 30 years of industry experience, said he first had the idea for this process about 10 years ago, but was financially unable to pursue it at the time.
“It is the small businesses, like ours, that are doing the innovating, investing in the research to address these problems, not the large multinationals,” he said. “And we are doing it to create jobs. If we can take this process to the next level, a lot of people will benefit.”
The process, he cautions, will not purify frack water to the level that it can be returned to lakes and streams, because it does not remove dissolved salts. But the water could be reused in additional wells without equipment damage occurring due to the build-up of metallic deposits called “scaling.” As such the Cosmos process would greatly reduce the overall amount of water needed for mining operations.
“The drillers have logistics issues with this water. Four million gallons is the capacity of 800 semi tankers,” Douglas said. “We conservatively estimate our process would reduce that to 60 trucks.”
And speaking of trucks, Douglas’ prototype will fit on one flatbed and can be operated on site. It is entirely portable.
“I am currently working to set up a demonstration for the drillers, I am meeting with them soon,” he said.
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