GreenHunter price structure encourages gas industry brine re-use - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

GreenHunter price structure encourages gas industry brine re-use

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The gas industry brine processing facility GreenHunter Water proposes to build and operate in Wheeling would, in a sense, pay operators to take their clean brine back out with them.

It's a business model that's unintuitive at first.

"You mean," an operator might ask, "I take my dirty brine to you, you filter it, and then you'll give me clean brine to use in my next hydraulic fracturing job — and pay me to take it?"

But it also makes sense, for two reasons.

First, GHW would have to take steps to dispose of every barrel of clean brine an operator didn't haul back out.

Second, encouraging the re-use of brine is part of the reason the company — which currently makes its money hauling fluids for the gas industry and operating a number of underground injection wells in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky — is getting into the intermediate step of processing in the first place.

Before going into detail about the business model, a correction is in order. Because of a miscommunication between The State Journal and GHW leadership, our May 3 story on the facility calculated that it would mean more than 100 truck round trips a day through the north side of Wheeling.

The number is probably closer to 30, according to John Jack, vice president of GHW parent company GreenHunter Energy.

Truck traffic

That quick, rough number is based on the fact that each "vibration separation nano-filtration" tower installed at the treatment facility would treat 1,000 barrels per day, and GHW probably would start out with three towers, Jack said. It could be as few as one and could eventually go as high as four.

A 3,000-barrel per day throughput capacity could accept delivery from 30 typical 100-barrel trucks full of brine in a day — that's hydraulic fracturing flowback, produced water and drilling mud.

Beyond those 30 round trips, others may be needed, although it's not yet clear how many.

They fall into two categories.

The sediment removed from the brine amounts to, at most, 10 percent of the total volume, Jack said. "As the product is being cleaned, the process is taking out the suspended solids — the clay, the dirt — giving me a concentrated sludge," he said. "That sludge goes through a filter press to squeeze the remaining liquid out and what you get is more or less caked dirt. That will be sent to a certified landfill."

Operating full-on at 3,000 bpd, the facility would generate a sealed trash container that would have to be trucked out about once every four days, he said.

The wild card is the clean brine.

If none of the trucks that take dirty brine in took clean brine out for re-use at the next hydraulic fracturing job, 90 percent or a little more of the incoming volume would have to be trucked — or, if the Coast Guard approves it, barged — away for disposal in GHW's underground injection wells.

That could mean no additional traffic if GHW did all the hauling in and out for producers, or up to 27 additional truck round trips a day if gas producers hauled their own dirty brine in and left empty and GHW then had to truck the clean brine out on its own trucks. Or it could mean one barge — equal to about 100 trucks — once every four days.

But at the other end of the spectrum, if every truck that took dirty brine in took clean brine out, no brine would have to be disposed of by underground injection. There would be no additional trips out.

Business model encourages re-use

Currently, a producer developing or operating a well in Pennsylvania, for example, might pay GHW to haul its waste brine to Ohio, inject it underground, and drive back empty — and then also has to get fresh water for its next hydraulic fracturing job.

Some producers already re-use some or all of their brine, but some see this is a better deal. After all, Jack said, "Ohio River water is free."

But through its Wheeling processing facility, GHW aims to offer a better deal still.

It would do that by being closer: Wheeling lies between vast gas fields and the underground injection wells that are accepting waste brine.

And it also would do that through its price structure.

"If a producer comes in and they drop material off and they don't take anything back with them, say that costs $50," Jack said — picking a number out of the air that he said is not an indication of what the real price would be.

"If you drop off and take clean product back with you, that costs you $25."

It also saves trucking distance, an empty return trip and the need to procure fresh water.

The goal, Jack said, is to recycle 100 percent of the clean brine back into the field.

"All of that material is going right now to our disposal wells, so anything better we do is a positive," he said.

Zoning still in question

In the end, the truck traffic probably would end up closer to 30 and no higher than 57 round trips a day.

The facility would operate around the clock, Jack said, but nearly all of the trucking would happen during the day.

GHW already owns the site and at North 28th Street and the adjacent barge terminal on the Ohio River. 

Local residents who are concerned about the truck traffic and about the plant's location a mile upriver from the city's drinking water intake are hoping to stop the plant by preventing a zoning change.  The company and city are working now through some uncertainty as to whether that zoning change is required.

Jack hopes to have the facility open before the end of the year.

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