Possible federal regulation spurs innovation

A campaign against the use of a natural gas well drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing has been the spark of inspiration for an Oklahoma-based company.
A3Environ Inc. offers an alternative approach to federal regulation, said its founder and president, Jay Glasscott.
Last summer, a controversial bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress that targets hydraulic fracturing. The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act — better known as the FRAC Act — would reclassify wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. If passed, the act would put wastewater under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation. The move would significantly increase the overall cost of developing some of the most promising natural gas fields in the U.S., according to the American Petroleum Institute.
The Duncan-based company will offer a nonlegislative solution, Glasscott said.
“I want to see an America that is energy independent, or as independent as possible,” Glasscott said. “Anything that slows that development needs to be addressed.”
The use of hydraulic “fracing” has opened up huge natural gas resources in the U.S. and the world, Glasscott said.
“The benefits of developing our U.S. natural gas reserves are well documented,” he said.
But the hydraulic fracturing process is messy.
For shale gas wells, millions of gallons of freshwater are used in the hydraulic fracturing process.
The water, mixed with chemicals and sand, is forced into a well hole under high pressure. The fluid fractures the shale and allows the gas to migrate out of the well.
Part of the frac fluid flows back out of the well as wastewater. A3Environ treats the frac wastewater, called “flowback,” using a patented, low-cost Advanced Oxidation Process. It eliminates chemicals in the flowback.
Oilfield wastewater has been exempt from clean water regulations, Glasscott said.
“The FRAC act would remove that exemption, and it would have a significant impact on the industry,” he said. “If we had that ‘hazardous’ label, it would change how companies have to haul water, how to dispose of that water.”
Previously, the amount of water of water used in tapping coalbed methane formations or other unconventional gas fields was minuscule to wells drilled today, Glasscott said.
“There is 4 million gallons — or about 100,000 barrels — of water per frac job,” he said. “We have never seen that volume of water.”
About half the water returns to the surface. That is what A3Environ would treat.
Now, most of the flowback wastewater is transported off the well site and remediated or pumped into off-site disposal wells. Glasscott’s concept would recycle much of the wastewater.
“The Cleanfrac H2O process that we designed can eliminate the chemicals and organics in that wastewater,” Glasscott said. “That means that flowback wastewater now should be acceptable within state environmental regulations and not require additional federal regulations.
“You are still dealing with a phenomenal amount of water and there are a finite number of disposal wells,” he said.
From the Barnett Shale in North Texas, trucks are driving into Oklahoma to use disposal wells north of the Red River.
After treatment, the flowback wastewater could be recycled to the next frac job reducing freshwater requirements. Recycling also reduces the amount to dispose, thus lowering costs.
Disposal costs depends on the region. It costs about $2.50 per barrel in the Mid-Continent. The cost to dispose of the wastewater Marcellus Shale, one of the nation’s most promising natural gas resources in the Appalachian Basin, is anywhere from $11 to $13 per barrel.
The next step for Glasscott is designing and begin building trucks to haul the machinery capable of recycling the water or building centrally located plants and pipe the wastewater to them.
“We expect to move forward in the first half of 2011,” Glasscott said. “We are testing in phases and various frac waters. Next, we the design truck. If those tests are successful, then truck fabrication would not take long.”
A3Environ is a client of Tulsa-based i2E Inc., which is a private nonprofit Oklahoma corporation focused on growing technology-based companies.
If the concept proves to be a success, Glasscott, whose background is economics, is looking at treating heavy petrochemicals like refinery sludge.
“I think we can take on sludge and refinery cleanups,” he said.
Glasscott understands environmentalists’ concerns about protecting drinking water.
“We must minimize the impact on oilfield production,” he said.

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