As companies look for cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to treat the dirty wastewater that is a byproduct of the hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, another company has tossed its hat into the ring.
Altela Inc. plans to open two new water treatment plants in Clarion County and in Mount Jewett, McKean County, to distill frack water using a non-conventional thermal distillation technology. The company is headquartered in Albuquerque, N.M., and has offices in Clarion, Pa., and Denver.
According to the Department of Energy, Altela operated a unit in Williamsport, Pa., for nine months from 2010-11. The system was tested as part of a demonstration sponsored by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
The new plants will be joint ventures with Piney Creek Power Plant in Clarion and with Casella Waste Systems Inc., a Rutland, Vt.-based company. Working under the names Clarion-Altela Environmental Services and Casella-Altela Regional Environmental Services, the operations are expected to generate 20 to 30 jobs each.
The technology being used, which goes by the trademark AltelaRain, turns salty wastewater into distilled water by mimicking the steps by which the rain is created from ocean water.
"Our technology is not new. It has been around for four and a half billion years. So we clean water in the same way that Mother Nature has been cleaning water for a long time," said Todd Hand, vice president of marketing and sales.
The plants will heat up dirty frack water, then condense the resulting vapor. The distilled water will then be discharged into the ground, rivers and streams in Pennsylvania. Additionally, customers will have the opportunity to purchase Altela's purified water.
The company is developing a proprietary method for disposal of the metal contaminants that will not involve in-ground injection.
The two plants are expected to open Aug. 1.
Mr. Hand claims that Altela is offering a more affordable alternative to water treatment. Because conventional thermal distillation processes rely on high temperature and high pressure units, "They have to use really expensive metals in their unit. We get away from that because we don't use high temperature and high pressure," he said.
Mr. Hand also said Altela's technology is a zero energy gained, zero energy lost process. "We're able to recapture [the] energy and use it to heat up the next drop of water," he said.
The private company was founded in 2005 and started operations in the southwestern United States in 2007-08, according to its website. It has treated wastewater resulting from oil and gas drilling in the Rocky Mountains and Canada. The company has raised $10 million from private equity investments, according to Mr. Hand.
In Pennsylvania, Altela plans to build more plants. It is not disclosing the names of the drilling companies it will be collaborating with.
The company's unit in Williamsport treated 77 percent of the water there, cutting disposal costs by 20 percent and curbing the use of trucking from the well site, according to the Department of Energy. The water is, according to the DOE, "suitable to be discharged to surface waterways."
Altela will join the ranks of companies looking to reduce the financial and environmental costs of handling large amounts of frack water that come from hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale.
Last week, Cecil-based Consol Energy announced its $500,000 investment in Epiphany Solar Water Systems to deploy solar-powered technology at a new testing site in Greene County. Mr. Hand claimed his company's biggest competitors are companies that use reverse osmosis technology, such as Ecosphere Technologies Inc., based in Stuart, Fla.; Veolia Water, based in Paris; and General Electric.
Elizabeth Bloom: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1969. First Published July 3, 2012 12:00 AM