The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a one-year permit to a Tyonek Native Corp. subsidiary called Envirotech LLC, allowing the start-up company to treat waste from drilling operations and store treated soils at its Tyonek site.
An Envirotech official said the company has plans to build a similar facility near Nikiski if the Tyonek operation proves commercially and environmentally successful.
"We hope to demonstrate a good track record in Tyonek," said Derek Maat, environmental project manager for Envirotech. "Then, based on those results, we hope to be able to mirror the same operation in Nikiski and set up the same facility here."
The Tyonek drilling-waste treatment facility and disposal site employs a recently developed technology for cleansing and disposing of drilling waste more quickly and less expensively than traditional methods such as grinding and injecting or burying in landfills.
According to information provided by Maat, Envirotech's process involves mixing drill wastes with various nontoxic dry and liquid chemical reagents, creating a slurry. The ensuing reaction essentially mimics the natural processes of geochemical degradation, only greatly accelerated in time. It oxidizes hydrocarbons and locks heavy metals and inorganic compounds in soils and sludge into a stable, nontoxic crystalline material that purportedly prevents any dangerous compounds from leaching into surrounding groundwater.
Those treated soils are safe to be used as on-site backfill, landfill site cover material and as road base and concrete additive, according to Envirotech.
Tests have shown the process effectively reduces or eliminates the leachability of contaminants and meets stringent tests required by the Environmental Protection Agency. It will de-fang such toxic metals as arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury selenium, silver and zinc by converting them to silicate forms, which are the most stable forms of those metals. Envirotech says the resulting materials will remain inert and stable for geological time frames from tens of thousands to millions of years.
Maat said the Tyonek operation has run limited pilot tests, but expects to begin commercial operations in August with its first client. Maat declined to name the client firm.
Maat also said Envirotech approached Unocal several months ago regarding Unocal's Ivan River monofill pit near the Ivan River, but inside the Susitna Flats State Game Refuge. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has asked Unocal to remove the contents of the 30-year-old, unlined pit from the refuge.
Unocal is looking at various options, including purchase of acreage from the Kenai Peninsula Borough near Beluga for a new, high-tech pit. Maat thinks Envirotech might present an alternative.
"We had some preliminary discussions about the Ivan River pit and indicated that our permit was imminent and asked them to consider us as an option.
"Unocal may look into the entity to see what they have to offer," said Roxanne Sinz, manager of public affairs for Unocal.
The process "geochemical fixation treatment" was supplied to Envirotech under license through HMM Environmental Technologies Inc., a Canadian firm that has entered a joint venture with Tyonek Native Corporation. Maat said longer-range plans could put Envirotech in the business of on-site soils remediation.
"We may create mobile units and treat on site," he said. "That's in the future. We will have to discuss that with DEC, but we hope for on-site treatment and disposal one day."
Maat said that conservatively, the Tyonek plant could treat 25 cubic yards of soil a day. For large-scale jobs, it could stockpile the soils on its site, but would expect soils to be excavated and trucked to the treatment plant, enabling the plant to handle it as it arrived.
Envirotech would assume ownership of the treated soils. The company's permit allows it to put the treated waste in a landfill that is maintained and monitored.
The company likely will explore opportunities to use the treated soil commercially, Maat said.
Envirotech's permit was issued April 29 for one year. According to the DEC letter to Mike Wicker of Envirotech, the department decided on the one-year permit because of concerns over regulatory compliance and the treatment process's effectiveness. The permit includes contaminant limits for wastes accepted by Envirotech for treatment and disposal.
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