South Franklin company looking to expand its Marcellus Shale water treatment business

Posted March 28, 2011

Mike Bradwell

A small South Franklin Township company has found success treating frack water from Marcellus shale natural gas wells for the past few years, its principal said last week.

Dean Grose, who founded Comtech Industries in 1995 after working for one of the world's largest industrial water treatment companies, said the company focuses on a number of industrial water treatment projects, and began providing water processing at gas wells in West Virginia about six years ago.

"We've been in the field for the past two years," actively treating the water at Marcellus well sites with a portable on-site system, he said last week.

According to Grose, Comtech's work begins about a week after fresh water has been introduced to a new well site.

"In the first days, the flowback is pure," he said. "After it crosses the seventh day, the more concentrated water comes back."

Grose said his process differs from the evaporation/crystallization method recently introduced by Canonsburg-based Aquatech. Instead, Comtech recycles flowback water by separating chemicals, then placing the treated water in large impoundment areas or collection tanks that are then picked up by water trucks and returned to the next well pad that is being drilled.

When all of the chemicals have been removed, the remaining sludge is placed into a large press, a centrifuge or vacuum de-watering boxes to dry it.

Grose said the sludge is placed in one of several Pennsylvania landfills that are approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Comtech's on-site treatment system includes a test lab that monitors water production for levels of chemicals.

"We move from pad to pad to pad," he said, describing a hub-and-spoke arrangement, where trucks dump water for treatment, then drive a short distance and load the processed water and haul it to the well pad.

While the hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus gas well requires an average of 5 million gallons, Grose said only about 20 percent returns to the surface as flowback, but Comtech has been able to provide 100 percent remediated water with no added fresh water at some drilling sites.

Grose explained that completed wells also generate between 100 and 400 gallons of highly concentrated or produced water daily that Comtech has been able to treat and remediate for use in new well pads.

He said that depending upon the customer and the specific well site, Comtech also provides water that is 20 percent treated flowback and 60 percent produced water obtained from functioning wells, requiring the driller to add only 20 percent fresh water.

According to Grose, Comtech, which employs 62 people, currently has four treatment systems deployed at Marcellus sites, mostly in Northcentral and Northeastern Pennsylvania. He said each system costs between $1 million and $1.2 million and requires from six to nine employees who work 12-hour shifts on a 24/7 basis.

Demand by drillers for his service is such that he has no problem obtaining new business, only determining how he'll service it, Grose said.

"I'm a small player, but we are growing substantially," Grose said. He said he is seeking financing to expand his business, which generates about $20 million in sales a year and is outgrowing the site along Park Avenue.

"If we get the financing, we could be a $50 million company in the next five years," he said.

Copyright Observer Publishing Co.