Company finds way to recycle frack water

Mar 6 2013 - 3:11pm

Images

In this photo made on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, a pumping truck is seen near the well where pumps move a brine water below the surface in a hydraulic fracturing process to release natural gas from shale deposits in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
In this photo made on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, a pumping truck is seen near the well where pumps move a brine water below the surface in a hydraulic fracturing process to release natural gas from shale deposits in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- More than eight years ago, native Stanley Weiner set out to find a way to recycle frack water.

"I stood on the corner waving my arms saying, 'We need to clean this up,'" Weiner said. "They all said, 'Why?'"

Now Weiner is the chief executive officer of STW Resources Holding Corp., which provides customized water analyses and reclamation to industrial and municipal agencies.

For eight years Weiner invested millions of dollars in scientific research to find cheaper technologies to recycle water. Although other companies have made similar attempts, Weiner said his scientists have been able to find a way to do it at a lower cost than most. A focus was on the wastewater produced when conducting hydryaulic fracturing, or fracking, to mine natural gas.

"We struggled with it for years," he said. "I have my own group of engineers and chemists."

Serving a range of clients from golf courses to oil field companies, Weiner said his technicians can clean just about any type of industrial-produced water with fixed or mobile units of any size, depending on how much water the client wants cleaned.

Most of the water he treats comes from oil fields, where producers use the fracking technique, which involves shooting down sand, chemicals and water to get to previously unreachable oil and gas deposits.

The analyses and construction of a single operation can take anywhere from 10 weeks to four months, depending on the project size, Weiner said. A small mobile unit, for instance, would be a 40-foot container that processes about 2,500 barrels of water. A full-service agreement with STW costs clients about $3.5 million to $6 million, which includes everything from the water analysis to the operation of the facility.

"We design, build and operate," Weiner said. "It's not one size fits all."

The Texas Water Development Board's 2012 State Water Plan is meant to project future demand and the costs and measures that can be taken to meet it. Communities were not prepared for current water shortages in the late 1990s, said Dan Hardin, director of Water Resources Planning for the water board, and it is important to start thinking ahead now.

Hardin said the main demand in the state is irrigation. Mining, which fracking falls under, accounts for about 1 percent of the demand statewide.

However, the State Water Plan shows mining made up almost 4 percent of the demand for Region F in 2010.

"For a rural county it may make a significant impact," Hardin said."If you look at it, the big picture of Texas water use, fracking is just a small amount."

Andrea Morrow, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said because most of the state's industrial operations use groundwater and not surface water, industrial water recycling may not have much of an impact on drinking water.

"There may be some short-term applications, for instance if the levels of reservoirs are low," she said, but any water conservation is good.

Because the technology is so new, it remains to be seen what long-term effects water recycling will have.

"There are a lot of unknowns. I'm not familiar with the technology yet," said Chuck Brown, director of operations with the Upper Colorado River Authority. "But it's advantageous to everyone if they can recycle water. It would be beneficial for both oil companies and residents of the region."

Weiner said he has gotten a positive response from oil companies.

"All oil companies are willing to take part in an industry that is going to help everybody," Weiner said.

Javier Urias -- owner of the Midland-based Acid, Cement, Frac Specialist -- said with increasing water shortages all over West Texas, more companies have been looking at ways to recycle the water.

"It's something new, something we need for the industry," Urias said. "With this new technology, it's going to benefit everybody."

The typical work process begins with analysis of the water and its contaminants.

The company pipes the produced water through a tank battery, where it sits for some time to allow the solids to settle.

STW Resources then pulls the water from the tank battery and runs it through a series of systems, where it is processed depending on which substance the company wants removed.

"It's different for each material," Weiner said. "If the water is high in hydrocarbons, we run it through one system. If it's high in sulfates, we run it through another system. If it's high in iron, we run it through a different technology."

Often the water also goes through a desalination process, which Weiner described as a series of tubes, membranes, filters and "all kinds of jazz."

Chemical feed pumps outside the systems take the water to holding tanks, after which the water is taken back to the client for use or sold.

The entire system, while overseen by technicians, is connected to a centralized computer network.

"It can all be done from the office by computer," Weiner said. "We always know what's going on."

Although the impact of such a new technology remains to be seen, water reclamation operations are growing with oil field activity to abate some effects of water shortage in West Texas.

"Everyone has an interest," Weiner said. "The sky's the limit."

(Contact Monique Ching is a reporter for the Standard Times in San Angelo, Texas, www.texaswest.com.)

 

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