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Consol puts $500K on fracking fix

By Thomas Olson
Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Consol Energy Inc. announced a $500,000 investment in a local company on Monday to solve a common Marcellus shale problem: how to handle toxic fracking fluid that frees the natural gas.

Epiphany Solar Water Systems, New Castle, will locate one of its solar-powered water distillation units at a Consol shale gas well in western Greene County capable of purifying 300 to 500 gallons of fluid a day. The cutting-edge technology will separate the fracking fluid into potable water, salt and residual toxins.

“It's a great example of sustainable development,” said Consol President Nicholas DeIuliis after a news conference at the Pittsburgh Technology Council in South Oakland.

Consol expects to install the unit in late July and, if it works as envisioned, add many more units after that. Epiphany's units are scalable, meaning hundreds can be linked to recycle tens of thousands of gallons a day.

“Ten years ago, Consol was in coal only, and now we're coal and natural gas,” said DeIuliis. “Five years from now, Consol will be a marketer of coal, natural gas and water.”

‘We know that as Marcellus shale ramps up, the demands on water are ramping up,” he said. Consol's operations, including coal, use more than 35 billion gallons of water a year.

“We're very confident (Marcellus shale) is going to be a great piece of Epiphany's business,” said Tom Joseph, president and founder of Epiphany, which will receive engineering and other support from Consol.

“Our best-case scenario would be to have a fleet of solar water units for every well pad in Pennsylvania, and eventually, out to the rest of the country ... anywhere they are doing fracking,” Joseph said.

The “solar” in the system is a mirrored dish, 10 feet in diameter, that collects the sun's energy. The system heats impure water — such as salt water or fracking water — to a boil, then captures the steam to distill it and separates out solid material.

To free gas from the Marcellus shale more than a mile underground, drillers use millions of gallons of water per well. Laced with chemicals and shot into shale at high pressure, the fluid helps free natural gas that flows to the surface. But more than a fifth of the fluid returns to the surface with more chemicals, solids and metals, and that water must be treated for reuse or disposal.

Drillers have been trucking the fluid to plants for treatment and injecting it underground. The Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection set strict standards for the amount of solids those plants could allow in treated water. The agency asked drillers to stop taking Marcellus water to publicly operated treatment plants in spring 2011, sparking the search for options.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.



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