Recycling plant? Great, but NIMBY
Perhaps the primary objection to Marcellus gas drilling since it began here in 2005 has been the danger of contamination from water used in the process of fracturing shale deep underground. Millions of gallons of water are laced with chemicals, mixed with sand and pumped underground to fracture the shale and allow the gas trapped to be released and captured. Some of the water comes back to the surface, carrying not just its original chemical mix but also substances from deep under the earth’s surface, some of which are hazardous, like cadmium, and even radioactive.
Traditional water treatment plants are not able to separate some dangerous elements from the water, which is returned to the river and our public drinking supply. Drilling companies have not been prohibited by law from delivering “frack water” to these treatment facilities but have been refraining from doing so voluntarily.
Still, the problem remains: What can be done with the waste water? We can only hope that no other rogue water haulers are dumping their loads in creeks or in abandoned mines, which are already filling and leaking acid mine drainage into streams, poisoning aquatic life and our drinking supply. Holding ponds are no good solution, either, because of the possibility of their toxic content leaking into the ground and contaminating water wells. Aside from treating the water to a completely clean state, the best and most economical solution is to recycle the waste water; to use it over and over again for the same purpose.
The technology exists now to treat and recycle waste water at the drilling site, but until such machinery is more affordable and able to handle large volumes quickly, drilling companies will haul the water to a recycling plant and then haul it back to the well pad.
Such a recycling plant has been proposed near Bulger, in Smith Township, and, not surprisingly, has met resistance from the public. For some residents, the idea of recycling waste water from fracking may be appealing, but having it done in their backyard is not.
TerAqua Resource Management, the company that wishes to build the plant in the sparsely populated area, ran into a number of roadblocks at a Smith supervisors’ meeting Monday night in the form of conditions set by the township’s planning commission. Among them were limits on the hours of operation, when trucks could enter and leave the plant – 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on a maximum of 30 Saturdays. TerAqua representative Quay Schappell objected, stating that the facility would need to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just as its customers – gas drillers – do.
Planning commission secretary James Pickar said, “We’re concerned about the safety of what’s contained in these wastes. They’re not entirely benign. We’re trying to take the position where we put reasonable restrictions on this, and that they’re enforceable.”
But restrictions like these are not reasonable and do nothing to make the waste being hauled less toxic. Such restrictions are like permitting a hospital to operate an emergency room but limiting ambulance traffic to daylight hours; those injured after dark must wait till morning.
We understand the concerns about what solids will be removed from the water and how they will be handled, and about increased truck traffic and wear and tear on roads. But if a plant to treat waste water in the best way can’t be built in an industrial zone of a mostly rural township, where can it operate?