PHILADELPHIA -- A call-to-action from a fracking study is inspiring innovation in the natural gas industry. At least one of those innovators is based in Pittsburgh, and that company was featured this week at the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual natural gas meeting.
In 2011, a case study published in the Society of Petroleum Engineers journal discussed the problem of biocides -- a toxic substance used in hydraulic fracturing.
Environmental groups took notice. So did chemists. One chemist representing the American Chemical Society pointed out that biocides " are designed to kill bacteria— it’s not a benign material.”
The use of biocides "has come under increasing scrutiny since high biocide concentrations in flowback water increase fluid cost and limit the options for disposal," read the abstract of the SPE study.
So the study made a not-so-subtle suggestion: There should be a way to make biocides less harmful.
Enter Dirk Thomas Solutions.
During the Technology Showcase of the Marcellus Shale Coalition's Shale Insight meeting Wednesday in Philadelphia, nine companies presented new ideas they hoped to bring to the natural gas industry.
Mike Derzack presented on behalf of Dirk Thomas Solutions, a company he runs with his son, Cameron. The Derzacks are based in Wexford.
Their company created a nontoxic method to disinfect frack water -- an alternative to the current biocide regimen. Their solution is cheaper than current biocide methodology, safer, simpler, and it reduces the amount of wastewater that needs to be thrown away, Mike Derzack said.
The Derzacks are new to the natural gas industry. Entering that industry right now -- especially in the upstream market, at a time when many businesses are scaling back on tracking new wells -- might seem like an inopportune choice. It might seem even more unusual if you know anything about Mike's recent professional background.
Mike has dabbled in real estate, selling homes for Keller-Williams and Coldwell Banker. He's also involved in a vacation business, travel-adventures.net; and a snow removal service, Alert Snow. He once owned a successful printing shop in downtown Pittsburgh.
But Derzack's educational background is in science. He graduated with a degree in biological chemistry from Albright College. After working in labs for Johnson and Johnson after college, Derzack moved to Pittsburgh with the company in a program that trained chemists to be salespeople. That gave him the bug. He got an MBA from Robert Morris and has pursued various business adventures since then, encouraging his family to take part.
"We've always been a family of entrepreneurs," he said.
How did they find their way into natural gas?
Derzack says the family snow removal service uses brine --- salt water -- to clear roads. Brine is a key ingredient in the fracking process, so his company started selling to local oil and gas companies. From there, they made contacts with drillers, and became aware of the SPE study and the need to come up with a solution to the biocide problem.
A business was born.
A better answer?
The Derzacks' company is just starting out. It has one client, Energy Corp. of America, and it's doing fracking work at ECA's wells in Greene County. But the move to address the biocide problem is catching on elsewhere. When Mike spoke Wednesday at Shale Insight's Technology Showcase, eight other companies also presented. One other was a biocide company. That Bellefonte, Pa.-based company, FyreRok Biofluids, won the conference's 3rd Annual Shale Gas Environmental, Health, & Safety Award. FyreRok developed its own nontoxic biocide to treat frack water.
Bill Hall, director of the BFSGIC said. he's glad to see companies trying to solve the biocide problem.
"The best innovations solve a problem," he told the Business Times. He elaborated in a statement: “The shale energy industry must continue to operate in an exemplary manner, exceeding stakeholder’s expectations in the environmental, health, and safety areas."
And even though the Derzacks' biocide solution lost out to FyreRok in the award, Derzack's not discouraged.
"If we get this going, we'll be profitable enough to stop doing our other businesses," he said. "We really think this could be big."
Matt Stroud is energy reporter for the Pittsburgh Business Times.
Original Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2015/09/18/toxic-frack-problem-could-have-its-solution-in.html