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Tri-Pac touts solution to fracking problems


Hydraulic fracturing may be an effective way to squeeze oil and gas from underground formations, but producers have to deal with the contaminated water that surfaces with the hydrocarbons.

A Red Deer businessman thinks he has a solution.

Garry Bush is president of Tri-Pac Engineering, a company that specializes in the recovery of oil and gas vapours using chilling systems.

He’s turned his attention to the challenge of cleaning the millions of litres of water that can accumulate at the site of a fracking operation.

That water, which often contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals, can be costly to dispose of and poses a threat to the environment, including groundwater.

“It’s not just a big problem, it’s a massive problem,” said Bush, who has worked in the refrigeration industry since he was 18 and holds trade tickets in refrigeration, air-conditioning and gas-fitting.

Working with Maryland compressor company J.J. Crewe & Sons Inc., Tri-Pac Engineering has developed a system to remove contaminants from industrial water. The water is filtered and heated, and then pumped into “water towers” where fans saturate the air and discharge it into the atmosphere.

When the water molecules evaporate, the contaminants are left behind. These collect on removable wafers and can be disposed of as solid waste.

Meanwhile, said Bush, water that doesn’t evaporate returns to a holding pond.

“As the pond warms up, the natural evaporation of the pond will take place too.”

Standing about 4.6 metres high, the units — called FRACVAPs — will be small enough to be transported on flatbed trailers and erected on site, said Bush. He estimates that each will process about 36,000 litres of water a day, although this volume could increase if the water is heated to higher temperatures.

Multiple units could be used together, or a larger unit built that would draw water from a number of ponds in the area.

Bush even sees the potential for FRACVAPs to be used to clean up oilsands tailings ponds.

He’s not aware of similar systems elsewhere, and has applied for patent protection. A number of the equipment suppliers that Tri-Pac Engineering uses have committed to assist with the project, and Bush is eager to move forward.

“I’m looking to get this out as fast and as hard as I can.”

What’s needed now, he said, are a number of fracking companies to step forward and commit to trying the technology.

“We’re ready to get it out there as soon as we find somebody who wants us to put this in action. We can put a system together anytime.”

Matt Horne, a spokesperson with the Pembina Institute, agreed that water from fracking operations mshould be disposed of properly.

“It’s a pretty toxic soup, so you definitely wouldn’t want it back into the drinking water or any sort of fresh water systems.”

That said, he thinks the risk is manageable — particulary with appropriate regulations in place.

Bob Curran, a spokesperson with Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board, said water from fracking and any other fluids that result from drilling and production operations are closely regulated in Alberta. He added that producers can choose their disposal method, as long as it complies with those rules.

“Depending on the composition of the materials you’re bringing out of the well, some things can be disposed of downhole, some can be land-spread if they’re very benign, and others have to be taken to certified waste management centres.”

Horne added that if fracking becomes more prevalent and the volumes of contaminated water increases, the challenges of disposal could become more of an issue.

Additional information about Tri-Pac Engineering’s FRACVAP system can be obtained by contacting Bush at 403-864-0435 or at gbmountain@live.ca.

hrichards@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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