Turning a menace into a resource
KULPMONT - A reimagining of Shamokin Creek's potential to morph from a polluted menace into a clean and viable economic resource was discussed Thursday night.
The price is high, of course - nearly $25 million - and it was fully acknowledged that the concept would be a challenging one to achieve.
The return would be a pair of water treatment facilities that could rid the creek of more than half its pollutants, create marketable by-products and entice industry to relocate to SEEDCO-Industrial Park.
Up to 15 million gallons of mine water carrying some 4,690 pounds of lead - 53.8 percent of what reaches the local watershed every day - would be treated daily at the facilities. The vast majority of the treated water would be returned to the creek and make its way to Susquehanna River.
But upward of 3 million gallons could be held back for industrial use, with 1 million destined for a client - the Mount Carmel Cogeneration Plant, for example, to use in its cooling process - and another 2 million used in the operation of a geothermal heating and cooling system that would be installed at the industrial park.
"The driving force behind the feasibility study is not just to say we can treat these waters and put them back into the stream and provide a cleaner Shamokin Creek," said Jon Dietz, an environmental science and engineering consultant of Dietz-Gourley Consulting LLC, State College.
"The real initiative behind this feasibility study is to look at the economics of not only treating the water but the economic benefits of once this water is treated, finding more uses for it that could benefit both the community and the local economy."
Dietz's firm completed a feasibility study on the environmental and economic benefits of treating acid mine drainage bound for Shamokin Creek at four sites - Scott Mine Tunnel and Colbert Mine Breach west of Kulpmont, Excelsior Overflow and Maysville Borehole - with one proposed treatment facility designed to treat two sites each.
The study was initiated by Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance (SCRA) and Northumberland County Conservation District (NCCD) and its results were presented Thursday at St. Pauline Visintainer Center.
Industrial reuses include evaporative cooling at power plants, water for fracking of the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves - a booming industry in Pennsylvania - and a geothermal heating system at the industrial park.
The highest cost for commercial facilities is heating and cooling, Dietz said. The geothermal system would raise or lower the 55-degree water 10 to 15 degrees warmer or cooler and could cut those costs from 25 to 50 percent, he said. Once used in the system, it could be returned to the creek, which he said is a warm-water creek.
As for fracking, he said Gov. Tom Corbett's commission on the natural gas industry is looking for a way to manage water for the fracking process and recommended the use of mine drainage sources rather than potable sources - drinking water that would be more expensive.
The low-flow augmentation for the river is desired by Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Dietz said. It needs more water under drought conditions to supply all industries and uses downstream.
"There could be some real strong driving forces both politically and economically to move this project forward," he said.
It could also make the creek viable for trout culture, including commercial hatcheries, and provide needed low-flow water augmentation for Susquehanna River.
The process to treat the water is dubbed Active Iron Solids (AIS) treatment and removes iron oxide precipitate from the water. The precipitate is the orange sludge lining area creek beds.
The active process is a far cry from SCRA's three passive systems is place - two on Carbon Run and a third near Excelsior on Shamokin Creek - which, by comparison, are much less costly but much less effective.
The AIS process, which is designed by Dietz's company, not only repurposes mine water but it will also allow the iron oxide to be removed from the water, dried and sold as a commercial pigment. The only chemical used in the process is agricultural lime.
The market value of such a pigment is $250 a ton, Dietz said, adding the pigment industry uses upwards of 30 million tons of the pigment annually.
If an industry were to use water for an industrial purposes, it would likely be purchased from Aqua PA. That water is potable drinking water extracted from the Roaring Creek Watershed and a much higher quality than necessary in most industrial processes. It's sold at a cost of $7.61/1,000 gallons for consumers that use less than 10,000 gallons a month to $3.67/1,000 gallons for those who use more than 10,000,000 gallons monthly.
If the project were able to yield a 1,000 gallon cost about $3.50, Dietz said incentives for industrial use are real, adding that Mount Carmel Co-Gen officials have expressed interest. In fact, he said that company originally sought to use mine water in its operations but the cost at that time to treat it was prohibitive.
"If you can provide a lower cost of water for an industry," compared to Aqua's, "that might be a real strong attraction for them to come here," he said.
"There are huge hurdles to get through," Dietz added. "This has never been done before."
If the plants would yield the water at the target price, the annual maintenance and operational costs of $1.5 million for both plants would be covered. About eight jobs, including administrative, would be created as the plants would be designed to be automated.
Dietz said a minimum of 25 percent of project funding from the public would be necessary to pull it off. SCRA and NCCD expect to find out next month the result of a private grant application they submitted for funding to be used to market the project to public agencies and private investors.