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Discharging already

If you think that overregulation is an economy-strangling problem, you will be glad to hear that there is a surprising amount of under regulation going on. In the northeast corner of Pennsylvania…

If you think that overregulation is an economy-strangling problem, you will be glad to hear that there is a surprising amount of under regulation going on. In the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, a company treats flowback and produced water and then legally discharges 300,000 gallons a day of effluent with concentrations of 107,000 mg/L of chloride. That is more than five times the amount of chloride in seawater. The only other constituents regulated at the outfall are oil and grease, TSS, iron, copper and silver. There are no limits on bromides, strontium, radium or TDS.

This is just a sample of what the EPA is learning about Central Waste Facilities (CWTs) that receive and treat cuttings, drill fluids, flowback and produced water for the oil and gas industry. The EPA issued a report in May with the catchy title of “Detailed Study of the Centralized Waste Treatment Point Source Category for Facilities Managing Oil and Gas Extraction Wastes”. The lengthy title is appropriate for the 262 page report which reviews the CWT industry that has sprouted up to accommodate the increase in unconventional oil and gas activity and the resultant wastewater flows.

When the Central Waste Facility regulation CFR 40 Part 437 was first promulgated in 2000, it meant to address third-party treaters that took in metal bearing wastes, oil and oily wastes, organic wastes, and a mix of the three. To qualify as a CWT the material to be treated must come from “off site,” Somehow, probably because flowback and produced water come from off site, facilities that take in oil and gas waste and wastewater were included in the category. This, in spite of the fact that the regulations did not address the key constituents of concern in flowback and produced water like TDS, radium, bromides and dissolved organics.

Eleven facilities are profiled in the report, most of them in Pennsylvania. Only six facilities have evaporators to address TDS. Five of the plants merely separate oil and water and then chemically precipitate and clarify. One of those plants polishes with activated carbon. Another polishes with bag filters. Two of the plants are permitted to discharge to public treatment works while nine are permitted for direct discharge. One of those facilities in Arkansas rarely discharges, instead it treats and stores the water for reuse in the oil field.

If you are planning a centralized plant for produced water treatment and discharge, be ready to address TDS at the very least. The report is a clear indication that EPA has wised up to this under regulation and intends to make some changes. If you are interested in learning whether one of these facilities is upstream of you, you can find the report here.

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