Marcellus Shale

Rock On: Dispatches from Geologists’ Conf. in Pittsburgh

Last week our Energy In Depth Northeast Marcellus team attended the third annual Marcellus Shale: Energy Development and Enhancement by Hydraulic Fracturing conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The conference was presented by the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG). Our campaign director, Tom Shepstone, spoke on the economic and political aspects of natural gas development and numerous geologists and other professionals presented on other aspects of natural gas.

What is The American Institute of Professional Geologists?

The American Institute of Professional Geologists, according to their materials, was founded in 1963 and consists of approximately 5,500 members to date in the United States and abroad. It is organized into 36 regional sections throughout the locations. The group was founded to certify the credentials of geologists and also to promote the profession. AIPG focuses its efforts on promoting the necessity of the geoscientists in every leg of today’s society with emphasis on competence, integrity and ethics.

The Presentations

The presentations we attended were extremely informative and did a great job presenting technical issues in a way everyone, including lay people like me, could understand. While we were there we watched three different presentations, as well as Tom’s. The first was titled “Comparison of Sample Collection Techniques for Dissolved Methane in Water Supply Wells” presented by Mark Orzechowski, PG from Civil and Environmental Consultants, Inc. The second was “Overview of Shale Gas Flowback Chemistry and Treatment Strategies” presented by Partick Horner of Aqua-Pure Ventures. The third was titled “Crystallization: A Viable and ‘Green’ Solution to Industry’s Wastewater Needs” from Jay Smith with Salt Water Solutions.  All three were excellent and here is what we learned.

Comparison of Sample Collection Techniques for Dissolved Methane in Water Supply Wells – Mark Orzechowski, PG

Orzechowski explained to the audience the importance of properly sampling water. I suspect few people realize how easily results can be affected by sampling techniques. He discussed, detail by detail, the most effective way to sample a water supply with the least amount of possible contamination. The natural gas industry now tests for methane and ethane in their parameters of pre-exploration water supplies. The baseline testing of these parameters will protect landowners and gas companies from accusations related to any future test results.

Orzechowski suggested samples be collected in 40 mL vials and analyzed using the RSK-175 method before natural gas exploration ever begins. He told the audience this method will be the most accurate in the detection of dissolved methane for samples where the methane is less than its solubility limit, which is approximately 28 mg/L at standard pressure and temperature. Anything higher than this could see some distorted results if the sample is exposed to the pressure, because the sample may off-gas some methane.

Overview of Shale Gas Flowback Chemistry and Treatment Strategies – Patrick Horner

Partick Horner of Aqua-Pure Ventures discussed the flowback chemistry and treating natural gas flowback water. Horner is a professional engineer and registered with APEGGA, with a lot of experience in the natural gas development process. Aqua-Pure Ventures is located in Calgary Alberta, Canada but has locations in the United States as well.

Horner’s presentation discussed the details of recycling the water that is pushed back to the surface after a natural gas well has been stimulated. He had a PowerPoint presentation showing the steps Aqua-Pure Ventures takes to get the flowback water to standards ready to stimulate another natural gas well. He not only touched on how they treat the water but also how they dispose of the excess safely.

Here is a video of Brent Halldorson, the COO of Fountain Quail, the American subsidiary of Aqua-Pure, describing their efforts in the Barnett Shale.

For a longer video, take a look at this website.

Crystallization: A Viable and ‘Green’ Solution to Industry’s Wastewater Needs – Jay Smith

Jay Smith with Salt Water Solutions presented on the treatment and disposal of flowback water as well. These two presentations were strategically placed back-to-back to help the audience really understand this crucial topic in the natural gas industry.

The Department of Environmental Protection, in April, 2011, told the natural gas industry they could not process Marcellus Shale flowback water in commercial waste treatment plants. They now needed to treat the water in other places. This has created an entire new industry, water treatment of the Marcellus Shale waste water.

This new industry, including Salt Water Solutions, has developed an efficient way to treat and dispose of natural gas wastewater. Each delivery of natural gas water has a different composition that is then identified by the recycling company. They break down the water into different phases. These broken down materials are continually broken down until the products are ready to safely dispose of or use. Salt Water Solutions’ process rarely results in any waste to actually dispose of because the byproducts can actually be used in different aspects. Here are some of the ways they use the byproducts:

  • Distilled water between 50 and 250 TDS. This water could be returned to the natural gas producer.
  • Salt products (99.7% purity), such as, water softening applications, pool salt, and animal agricultural applications.
  • Calcium products – used primarily for road stabilization/dust control and road de-icing with additional uses in the natural gas drilling process.

The conference was very successful with a wonderful turnout of both presenters and audience members. Just about every topic dealing with natural gas exploration was touched on in some respect by one or more of the excellent presenters.  The science involved was impressive to see up close and, as Tom indicated in his remarks, it is this work that ensures the economic benefits to our rural areas and the inexpensive energy benefits to our urban consumers can be realized.  Seeing these geologists at work applying that science told me everything I need to know about the safe and responsible way our natural gas resources are being developed.  I trust them – they’re making Marcellus Shale work for all of us!

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