New Facility Turns Acid Mine Drainage into Water for Fracking

Oct 28, 2014

A holding pond containing acid mine drainage - that water goes through the tanks in the background, is treated and can potentially be used for oil and gas operations.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A new demonstration project in Sarver, about 30 miles outside Pittsburgh, is taking a decades-old problem and turning it into a possible solution for the natural gas industry. Winner Water Service has launched treatment facility that aims to clean up polluted water – and sell it to natural gas developers for use in fracking operations.

“Our patented HydroFlex technology purifies acid mine drainage water, also known as mine impact water, and effectively removes sulfates,” said CEO Carolyn Kotsol, “this provides oil and gas operators with many opportunities, but it gives them an opportunity to purchase an affordable water stream that is also environmentally safe.”

The industry does not like to use acid mine drainage as-is for fracking because of the sulfates and other pollutants. The HydroFlex system cleans waste water to the specifications of developers, and ultimately the goal is to reduce the use of fresh water in natural gas development.

“It gives the oil and gas operators an affordable, environmentally safe water option for their practices, for hydraulic fracturing, in lieu of purchasing water from a municipal source or even from a freshwater source,” said Kotsol.

Though the water must be treated, which has associated costs, the treatment facilities can be located closer to development sites, and therefore the water can remain affordable. Such is the case with the Sarver demonstration site.

“The issue is transportation,” said Kotsol, “it’s taking the water from those sources and transporting to the site where they’re doing hydraulic fracturing. Where we are positioned here, it gives us a geographic opportunity. We’re closely located to where a lot of these hydraulic well sites are happening – within 20 or 30 miles – helping to minimize the transportation cost.”

Pennsylvania has some 88,000 miles of inland waterways, second only to Alaska. That’s according to Alan Walker, secretary of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development. He said of those waterways, more than 6,000 miles have been adversely impacted by past mining operations.

“The project will reduce the demand and consumption of fresh water for hydraulic fracturing by using a non-potable water supply,” said Walker, “and it will treat AMD [acid mine drainage], an environmental legacy.”

The technology is being developed and tested thanks to a grant from the US Department of Energy. So far, Kotsol said the process is moving forward – as with any new venture, there are some lessons learned along the way, but she said sulfates are being effectively removed from the mine drainage water. After the DOE grant period, the company will be able to offer the water to developers.