A new joint partnership provides a solution to the environmental issues surrounding the treatment of mineral-laden brackish water from Marcellus Shale drilling, a problem that has threatened to severely limit natural gas drilling in several northeastern states. The partnership is between Casella Waste Systems Inc., based in Rutland, Vt., and Altela Inc., a privately held water desalination company in Albuquerque, N.M. Together, these two companies have partnered to solve the environmental issue of brackish, salty water produced from drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale basin that until recently often was discharged into area rivers, with little or no treatment for hard-to-remove salt contaminants.

The newly formed joint partnership, "Casella-Altela Regional Environmental Services LLC," or "CARES," will recycle brackish oilfield and natural gas wastewater into clean distilled water for future industry use. The cleaned water is said to be the same quality as rainwater, and can be recycled and reused by the oil and gas industry.

As part of the joint partnership, Altela will provide the technology to clean the brackish water to a quality higher than state and federal standards, while Casella will provide the working infrastructure and operational facilities for the treatment facility.

The first water treatment facility will be located at the Casella-owned landfill located in McKean County, Pa. The placement of the treatment facility at the McKean landfill provides a platform to provide a full suite of resource solutions to the drilling companies, including storage for brackish and clean water. The water treatment facility will be powered by clean energy generated by methane gas captured from the landfill.

Altela treats water without electricity-intensive equipment, making use of methane gas from landfills. In addition, its technology does not require high temperatures or pressure; Altela uses a low-energy thermal distillation method that mimics nature's method of producing rain, and neither electricity nor pressure drives the process.

"This is a perfect environmental fit – making pure distilled water from brackish Marcellus oilfield water – at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the oil and gas industry in treating waste water," says Ned Godshall, Altela's chief executive officer.

Since the McKean site is adjacent to an existing rail spur, the facility will enable both the transport of large volumes of frac flowback water to the site, and then clean, treated water back to its customers throughout Pennsylvania and New York.

"The Marcellus Shale needs a sustainable solution to treat frac flowback water," says Matthew Bruff, Altela's vice president, "and this partnership with Casella allows us to extend our corporate philosophy of sustainable re-use of water. It allows us to now extend, to E&P wastewater in northwestern Pennsylvania, the progressive re-use options for which we've been a leader in brackish oil and gas wastewater.”

Altela announced that this is the first of many facilities planned throughout the Northeast to combine the synergies of landfill waste energy with Altela's reclamation of pure water from frac flowback water using low-grade heat – not expensive electricity. Further locations will be announced in the near future.

"Together, our companies bring a new dimension to water re-use, recycling and environmental stewardship to energy extraction in the Marcellus and Utica Shale basin," says Godshall.