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News from the nation

OK earthquakes linked to wastewater injection

A new study shows that the increase in earthquakes in central Oklahoma since 2009 is likely attributable to subsurface wastewater injection at a handful of disposal wells.

The research team was led by Katie Keranen, professor of geophysics at Cornell University, who said Oklahoma earthquakes constitute nearly half of all central and eastern U.S. seismicity from 2008 to 2013, many occurring in areas of high-rate water disposal.

"Our results provide insight into the process by which the earthquakes are induced and suggest that adherence to standard best practices may substantially reduce the risk of inducing seismicity," said Keranen. "The best practices include avoiding wastewater disposal near major faults and the use of appropriate monitoring and mitigation strategies."

The study also concluded that four of the highest-volume disposal wells in Oklahoma are capable of triggering ~20 percent of recent central U.S. earthquakes in a swarm covering nearly 2,000 square kilometers; earthquakes are induced at distances over 30 km from the disposal wells; and the area of increased pressure related to these wells continually expands, increasing the probability of encountering a larger fault and thus increasing the risk of triggering a higher-magnitude earthquake.

Ballast water treatment lab includes American Bureau of Shipping

The American Bureau of Shipping's (ABS) expertise will now be included in the NSF International Independent Laboratory (IL), the first facility designated by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to test ballast water management systems (BWMS) for U.S. type approval.

ABS will complete design/construction and documentation reviews as part of the type approval and will work with three other IL partners to maximize the value of USCG type approval testing for BWMS manufacturers. ABS will also evaluate the appropriateness of the systems for installation and operation onboard vessels.

NSF's IL partnership, formed in 2012, includes Retlif Testing Laboratories, the Great Ships Initiative, the Maritime Environmental Resource Center, and now ABS. The combined IL evaluates and tests technologies designed to treat ballast water on ships to meet the USCG requirements. USCG approval of onboard BWMS is required for vessels entering and discharging treated ballast water in U.S. waters to prevent the spread of non-native aquatic species in lakes, rivers and coastal waters.

New revenue streams created from recovering oil, precious metals in wastewater

According to Lux Research, recovery of resources from wastewater streams is becoming increasingly feasible -- especially oil, precious metals and industrial fats, oils and greases (FOG) -- with rising commodity prices.

Over the past decade, crude oil prices have risen nearly three-fold, while the value of precious metals has soared over 250 percent, making recovery of these commodities attractive. Growing demand for biodiesel amid a restricted supply of feedstocks drives recovery of industrial FOG. However, current economics don't favor lithium and phosphate recovery.

Analysts found that oil prices over $100/bbl help make recovery of oil from wastewater streams viable. Drillers using new techniques, like hydraulic fracturing, have not caught up to established best practices for oil recovery and commonly lose 6 to 10 percent of their extraction via wastewater. An investment of up to $7 million in recovery for these drillers pays for itself in the first year of operation.

The research also determined that skyrocketing biodiesel production -- from 14 million gallons in 2003 to 17.1 billion gallons globally in 2013 -- is the chief driver of FOG recovery. Promising technologies include new methods to recycle FOG-water mixtures and processes to convert recovered FOG into animal food, soaps or other inedible products.

Online database discloses groundwater contamination from coal power waste

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) recently launched its new Ashtracker website (www.ashtracker.org). The database contains 39,080 groundwater quality readings at 1,010 monitoring wells near 30 ash waste sites in 16 states from Florida to North Dakota. The 30 sites are a subset of the hundreds of coal ash disposal areas across the country.

According to the database, thousands of groundwater samples near coal ash dumps across the U.S. contain arsenic, lead and other pollutants at levels exceeding federal thresholds for safe drinking water.

EIP will be progressively adding new disposal areas over the coming months. Of the currently-listed groundwater monitoring wells, 828 (82 percent) have exceeded EPA safe drinking water thresholds for one or more pollutants in the last four years. The wells are usually located on properties owned by power companies, and the risk to public health and the environment will depend on whether contaminants move offsite and into drinking water wells, creeks or wetlands.

Ashtracker aims to help community groups, reporters and policy makers analyze whether local coal plants are contaminating their underground water supplies and whether the proposed EPA regulations are adequate.

Report: Fracking water treatment equipment market to reach $350M

According to a new report by BCC Research, the North American market for wastewater treatment equipment for hydraulically fractured gas and oil wells is expected to grow to $350 million by 2018, with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.1 percent. Further, the hydrofracted oil well market, the fastest growing segment overall, is growing at a significant 11.2-percent CAGR.

The North American produced water treatment market is the world's largest. Sales for equipment used to treat wastewater from fracking operations as well as conventional wells reached $889 million in 2013. Sales into the fracking market alone make up approximately 24 percent of the total, or $216 million in 2013.

Likewise, hydraulically fractured gas wells, the largest segment of the hydrofracturing market, is expected to grow to $248 million by 2018, registering a CAGR of 9.7 percent. The hydraulically fractured oil well segment however, valued at just $60 million in 2013, is growing more rapidly than the market as a whole and is expected to jump to $102 million in 2018.

The market is broken down by several different parameters, including country, equipment type and wastewater source. The study covers the industry in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in terms of the manufacture and deployment of treatment systems.

Novel solar energy-driven process to improve oil sands tailings reclamation

University of Alberta civil engineering professors Mohamed Gamal El-Din and James Bolton have developed a novel technique that uses solar energy to accelerate tailings pond reclamation efforts by industry, ultimately helping to make the cleanup process of oil sands tailings more environmentally friendly. Rather than using ultraviolet (UV) lamps as a light source to treat oil sands process affected water (OSPW) retained in tailings ponds, using the sunlight as a renewable energy source treats the wastewater just as efficiently but at a much lower cost.

Oilsands tailings ponds contain a mixture of suspended solids, salts and other dissolvable compounds. Typically, these tailings ponds take 20-plus years before they can be reclaimed. Moreover, the solar UV/chlorine treatment process when applied to the tailings ponds would make OSPW decontamination and detoxification immediate.

The sun's energy will partially remove these organic contaminants due to the direct sunlight. But, when the sunlight reacts with the chlorine (or bleach) added to the wastewater, it produces hydroxyl radicals (powerful oxidative reagents) that remove the remaining toxins more efficiently. The chlorine leaves no residuals, as the sunlight causes it to decompose. In laboratory-scale tests, the solar UV/chlorine treatment process was found to remove 75 to 84 percent of these toxins.

Dental offices across U.S. to eliminate mercury pollution under EPA proposal

The EPA recently announced a proposal to eliminate mercury pollution from dental offices nationwide in an effort to meet new Clean Water Act (CWA) standards that would cut discharges of dental amalgam -- a mixture of mercury and other metals that dentists use to fill cavities. Under this proposal, dentists must use devices to remove mercury and other toxic metals before they are disposed down the drain.

About half the mercury that enters public water treatment systems comes from dental offices that do not use amalgam separators. When mercury from amalgam is discharged into waterbodies, it can be transformed into methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that builds up in fish, shellfish and fish-eating animals. People can be harmed by methylmercury when they eat contaminated fish and shellfish.

EPA estimates that up to 120,000 dental offices in the U.S. use or dispose of amalgam fillings that contain mercury. Almost all of these offices discharge to sanitary sewers that flow to wastewater treatment plants. While most offices use some practices to reduce amalgam discharges to the sewers, they are not nearly as effective as amalgam separators. Because 40 to 50 percent of dentists already use amalgam separators thanks to state and local programs, the new rule may result in installation of separators in up to 60,000 dental offices nationwide.

Eco-friendly recycling solutions recommended for frack water

Scientists at Rice University have produced a detailed analysis of water produced by hydraulic fracturing at three gas reservoirs in Texas, Pennsylvania and New Mexico and have suggested that environmentally friendly remedies are needed to treat and reuse it.

Rice chemist Andrew Barron, who led the study, suggested that more advanced recycling rather than disposal of produced water pumped back out of wells could calm fears of accidental spillage and save millions of gallons of fresh water per year.

The project began with chemical analysis of fracking fluids pumped through gas-producing shale formations in the three states. The researchers found that shale oil and gas-produced water does not contain significant amounts of the polyaromatic hydrocarbons that could pose health hazards.

However, minute amounts of other chemical compounds led them to believe the industry should focus its efforts on developing non-chemical treatments for fracking and produced water.

"We believe the industry needs to investigate alternative, non-chemical treatments to avoid the formation of compounds that don't occur in nature," Barron said. Primarily, he noted that the researchers want their analysis to anticipate future problems as the industry develops processes to remove organic compounds from water bound for reuse.

Chevron completes evaluation process as first CSSD-certified company

Chevron Appalachia (Chevron) was recently certified by the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), a collaboration between environmental organizations and energy companies encouraging responsible development of shale gas resources in the Appalachian region, as the first company to successfully complete CSSD's rigorous evaluation and verification process.

Chevron has earned full CSSD certification against all 15 of the CSSD's Performance Standards that serve as the foundation for the Center's recently-established independent third-party evaluation and verification program. These standards center on operational performance as part of the producer's environmental stewardship and continuous improvement processes.

Like any company that earns CSSD certification, Chevron must continue to adhere to CSSD's Performance Standards in the Appalachian Basin, integrating the Center's publicly-available best practices into the company's long-term continuous improvement process. CSSD will monitor adherence and continue to build and expand on its initial 15 Performance Standards.

To earn its CSSD certification, Chevron conducted a two-year preparatory process based on CSSD's initial 15 Performance Standards for air and water that were developed to reflect leading industry practices in the Appalachian Basin. Certification, which is valid for 24 months -- after which companies can seek renewal -- is based on the CSSD's 15 initial Performance Standards for air and water.

Total Gulf shore oil mass measured in wake of Deepwater Horizon spill

A New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) research team has estimated the total mass of oil that reached the Gulf of Mexico shore in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, which occurred in April of 2010. This is the first time such an estimate has been reported, and the findings will help officials determine the persistence of oil on the shore and identify potential harm to the ecosystem.

The study was conducted by the Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection (NRDP) at NJIT, whose director, Michel Boufadel, is known internationally for oil-spill research. Three researchers from the center -- Xiaolong Geng, Ali Abdollahi Nasab and Jagadish Torlapati -- assisted Boufadel in the study.

The researchers found that 22,000 tons of oil reached the Gulf shoreline, with the mass of oil reaching the shoreline between 10,000 and 30,000 tons and an average value of 22,000 tons. This amount represents about 5 percent of the total oil released in the Gulf from the incident. Likewise, more than 90 percent of the oil mass landed in Louisiana, suggesting the severe impact on the state in comparison to others.

The paper found that due to evaporation and sinking, the oil disappears off the surface at a rate of 20 percent per day. Therefore, only about 50 percent of the oil remains on the water surface after four days. Adopting the latest computational models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Boufadel's team used sophisticated satellites to evaluate the depletion of oil from the surface water.

Coffee wastewater used to generate energy at Central American farms

Recent efforts undertaken in UTZ Certified's ‘Energy from Coffee Wastewater' project, a global endeavor addressing environmental and health problems caused by the wastewater produced in the coffee industry, has proven that it is possible to generate energy, tackle climate change and protect water resources by treating discharges from coffee mills.

UTZ Certified, a label and program for sustainable farming of agricultural products, has incentivized tailor-made coffee wastewater treatment systems and solid-waste treatment mechanisms to be installed in eight coffee farms in Nicaragua, ten in Honduras and one in Guatemala. The positive environmental and economic impact of the project on over 5,000 people in the region has inspired the organization to replicate the initiative in other countries.

The Energy from Coffee Wastewater project has been implemented in a range of differently-sized farms. The achieved results of the project range from preventing local deforestation of native trees to better indoor environments for families who replaced firewood with domestic gas stoves for cooking. Additional outcomes included treatment of essentially all water used in coffee processing; over 50 percent less water used during coffee processing; generation of a significant amount of biogas used to power households and coffee mills; and prevention of the release of greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere.

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