Hydraulic fracking has a bad reputation with some environmentalists, who think that the heavy water usage involved in fracking projects is too destructive to the environment. But one preventable environmental concern relates to excavating permanent water storage basins. Drillers can find ways to store the water they need without as much environmental disruption. Portable storage basins like Portadam can minimize geological destruction, which addresses some of the environmentalists’ biggest objections.
“Water is the life blood of what the industry does. We just use tremendous amounts of water and we couldn’t work without it,” said Charlie Campbell, director of special projects for Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. That massive need for water is often one of the biggest challenges in working on a construction project, and creating a place to store up to hundreds of thousands of gallons can be no small feat.
When a project requires using or diverting hundreds barrels of water, contractors will either drill a new basin or bring in a temporary storage container. The problem is that in certain environmental conditions, such as mountainous areas and in the hydraulic fracturing industry, creating such a storage basin in the earth causes massive environmental destruction and takes a lot of time.
The Portadam above-ground water storage system was originally designed to meet the unique geological needs and regulatory requirements associated with the Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracking project. Portadam has been around for more than 30 years and the product is vetted by the Army Corps of Engineers. They can come in and create a custom-designed water storage structure that can fit within any shape. The Portadam system consists of a welded tubular steel framework support and a flexible waterproof membrane, which allows for easy installation in any configuration and in uneven bed contours.
“The Portadam system is so helpful because it can move from point A to point B more efficiently,” Campbell said.
“Most of the industry came from other places like Texas, where they just had a completely different geography,” Campbell said. “When we came to Pennsylvania, we realized we had different needs, including water reclamation requirements imposed by the state of Pennsylvania EPA.”
The naturally occurring rock structures in areas like Pennsylvania make it impractical to create an excavation because it disturbs the earth too much. “The Portadam product is self contained and allows us to go in and examine the site and create a design specific to that site,” Campbell said.
Changing weather conditions throughout the year also create different water storage needs. For example, when water freezes during the winter in northern regions, an excavated water storage site could make the water inaccessible. A portable system can avoid many weather-related delays.
The most innovative aspect of the Portadam system, the company says, is the flexibility that it offers because it’s customizable to any location. “Companies really appreciate that Portadam gives them a great deal of flexibility,” said CEO Bob Gatta. “They understand and need something that’s high quality and has both the responsiveness and safety that they need on the job site.”
The Portadam system can be up to 10 or 12 feet high, and can be any shape. Because it has no size restrictions, it can hold any amount between 5,000 up to 500,000 barrels. It can also accommodate both under-mount and over-the-top tanks.
It’s also easy to use. “I could have the fanciest system, but if it gets messed up in the install, it’s no good to anyone,” said Gatta.
While tight spaces in mountainous regions present their own challenges in providing water access on drilling projects, getting enough water in plains and desert areas is a whole new matter. One person who knows about this is Ryan Stover, president of Mid-Continent at Crescent Services LLC. “We’re based in south central Oklahoma, and we have significant drought conditions that mean storage needs really come into play,” Stover said. “A lot of our solutions are driven by the customer. Our primary business is water management and we’re out there finding and sourcing water. We’ve turned to storage solutions with Portadam.”
In regions like Oklahoma and Texas, where water is harder to come by, conservation becomes more important. “Our clients are more concerned with recycling water to minimize use and to keep trucks off the road,” Stover said. “We’re really seeing interest from the drilling industry and they’re looking to supplement with stored water as a solution to water shortages.”
Cost and Efficiency
In the drilling industry, time is money—and money is the bottom line that drives a lot of business decisions. Finding the most cost effective and efficient tactics can be the difference between success and failure, profit and loss. That’s where a system like Portadam brings the most benefits to the table.
“There’s a lot of respect for the environment of course, but cost is probably the primary driver for most contractors. Efficiency saves time and money,” said Campbell.
The fact that the water storage doesn’t require new excavation also speeds up the approval process. “Something like this [Portadam] gets much quicker approval than constructing new storage, so we don’t have to waste as much time before we can start work,” said Stover.
Drilling and construction can’t stop just because of concerns about the impact on the environment, but more efficient use of our natural resources is a win-win for both drillers and communities.