Morgantown, W.Va. — The sheer volume of wastewater produced by shale-gas drilling has created a need for cutting-edge water treatment technologies that are both cost effective and energy efficient. To meet this need, Altela Inc. and its joint venture partners are opening two new wastewater treatment facilities in 2012 that use a unique, patented water desalination process called AltelaRain®, which was developed with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
The new plants for treating, recycling, and disposing of Marcellus shale wastewater are located in Clarion and McKean Counties in western Pennsylvania. The McKean plant will be fully operational by mid October, while the Clarion plant is expected to open later in the month. It is anticipated that each site will create 10 to 15 new jobs.
The AltelaRain® technology used at the plants employs a process similar to rain-making. Wastewater is heated until it evaporates, producing clean water vapor that naturally separates from the contaminant particles. The water is then condensed and collected. “Our technology is not new. It has been around for four and a half billion years. We clean water in the same way that Mother Nature has been cleaning water since the beginning of time,” said Ned Godshall, Altela’s Chief Executive Officer.
While this process, called thermal distillation, is well known, the technology that Altela has pioneered is unique in its energy efficiency. Altela’s method captures the heat produced during condensation and uses it in the evaporation process. “We’re able to recapture energy and use it to heat up the next drop of water without pressure, and thereby without the higher operating and capital costs of competing desalination technologies,” said Godshall.
The wastewater facility in McKean County is owned and operated by Casella-Altela Regional Environmental Services LLC (CARES), a joint venture between Altela and Casella Waste Systems Inc. Situated adjacent to the McKean County Landfill, the CARES facility uses landfill gas as its energy source. The Clarion plant is owned and operated by Clarion Altela Environmental Services LLC (CAES), a joint venture between Altela and ACI Energy Inc. This plant has the ability to utilize waste heat from ACI’s waste-coal-fired Piney Creek Power Plant. Each facility is able to process up to 12,000 barrels of wastewater a day—about 500,000 gallons per facility. The purified water can then be reused for well operations or discharged back into surface waterways. These facilities don’t just meet the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s recent changes to Chapter 95 discharge water quality requirements, they exceed them.
In 2010, the AltelaRain process was tested at BLX Inc.’s Sleppy well site in Indiana County, Pa., as part of a demonstration supported by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy. Over a 9‑month period, 77 percent of the produced hydraulic wastewater was successfully treated onsite, resulting in clean, distilled water. Following the DOE-sponsored demonstration project, four AltelaRain® modules were sold and installed at a water treatment facility in Williamsport, Pa., which is capable of treating approximately 100,000 gallons of wastewater every day.
Technologies such as AltelaRain represent exciting advancements in environmental tools and processes that improve the management of water resources, water usage, and water treatment required for shale gas development across the United States. Use of the new CARES and CAES plants will increase environmental sustainability and stewardship by ensuring that wastewater is fully treated to clean-discharge standards and by reducing freshwater demand through wastewater recycling. It will also shorten the distance that water needs to be trucked, thus reducing wear and tear on Pennsylvania’s roads.