The Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center Inc. (RMC) has formed a new business partnership to collect and recycle plastic well pad liners from gas drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale region, which is located in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. The deep shale formations that make up the Marcellus Shale region have been a hot spot for natural gas drilling.
“This is a first-of-its-kind venture that will produce major and dramatic benefits for Pennsylvania in addition to new jobs and growth for the companies directly,” said RMC Executive Director Robert J. Bylone, Jr. during a press conference announcing the recycling partnership.
The benefits include reclaiming millions of pounds of marketable plastic, thus slowing the consumption of landfill space and reducing truck traffic around drill sites.
The partners in the venture are WellSpring Environmental Services LLC, headquartered in Orwigsburg, Pa., and Ultra-Poly Corp., based in Portland, Pa.
Both companies are members of the RMC’s Center of Excellence, a network of recycled materials processors and end users of recycled materials.
“The new recycling venture with WellSpring and Ultra-Poly is expected to take at least 20 million pounds a year of plastic well pad liner material out of the waste stream and turn it into useful new products,” Bylone said at the press event.
The products have been gaining traction with builders over the past decade, and the company’s co-founder Jim Kerstein thinks it is just the tip of the iceberg.
“One of the keys to getting more than the current 17 percent of plastics recycled is to develop the necessary pull-through, or major uses, of recycled materials,” he says. “As Axion and hopefully other manufacturers of recycled products continue to grow and start to develop significant markets, it will become imperative to collect and utilize more materials that currently seem to fall outside of the recycling stream.”
Now that one of its material suppliers, Portland, Pa.-based Ultra-Poly, is processing plastic liners from gas drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale region, Axion is furthering its goal to collect material that traditionally is landfilled and making useful products out of it.
Axion’s major products made of recycled structural composite (RSC) include Ecotrax composite railroad ties as well as Struxure beams, boards, pilings and bridges and boardwalks. All of these products are made of 100 percent recycled content, with HDPE (high-density polyethylene) as the base material, according to the company.
In 2011, Axion used 10 million pounds of recycled resin. Kerstein says Axion is on track to quadruple that in 2012 by budgeting for the use of in excess of 40 million pounds of recycled resin.
An estimated 100 million pounds of high-density plastic were used for well pad liners by drillers in the Marcellus Shale region in 2011. Currently most of that material is disposed of in landfills when it needs to be replaced or removed.
Ultra-Poly, a polyethylene and polypropylene recycler with 170 million pounds of annual processing capacity, has designed a proprietary process for processing the liner material and has built a recycling plant specifically for that purpose in a building leased from the Berwick Industrial Development Authority, Berwick, Pa.
“We are supplying the recycled plastic to several existing customers, including Axion International, which turns the material into composite railroad ties and other composite building components,” said David LaFiura, vice president of Ultra-Poly. “The market is potentially huge. We have developed an environmentally responsible method, we are the only company doing this and we are in position to recycle as much of the liner material as we can get.”
Axion International, based in New Providence, N.J., uses post-consumer and post-industrial plastics to make building products the company says are strong enough to compete with traditional materials. (See the sidebar “Building Bridges” on the right.)
In tandem with that, WellSpring has developed special equipment for separating well pad liners on site so the pieces from one well site can be trucked away for recycling in a single trailer load.
In the past, excavators were used to rip well pad liners into large sections, and then it typically took eight to 10 trips with roll-off containers to take the sections from a single site to a landfill for disposal.
“There’s not one well pad in Pennsylvania where this new approach doesn’t make sense,” said Jonas Kreitzer, president of WellSpring.
It’s estimated that 20,000 pounds of liner material is used per drilling site. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued 3,510 Marcellus Shale well permits in 2011 and another 1,243 through mid-May of 2012.
“We can do liner removal more efficiently, at less cost, while cutting down truck traffic, protecting the environment and generating commercially reusable material,” Kreitzer said.
Bylone said, “We think this will have tremendous application and value for the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania, as well as elsewhere. That alone will have a beneficial impact on our economy. It also gives a very big boost to our recycling industry in Pennsylvania, which is growing by leaps and bounds. In addition, it will save landfill space and will cut down on truck traffic, which everyone applauds.”
State Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker said that the agreement “represents the success that can be achieved when agencies, companies and markets work together in a way that benefits all Pennsylvanians. This venture is a win for everyone—80 new jobs will be created and a cleaner environment will result from this creative reclamation and recycling initiative.”
Vince Brisini, deputy secretary for waste, air, radiation and remediation in the state Department of Environmental Protection, commented, “The development of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is progressing, and to their credit, the natural gas industry and the associated industries and services are becoming more efficient in the management of resources. This is being accomplished through the expansion in research and development for beneficial re-use of wastewater and other materials that would otherwise simply become part of a waste stream. I am pleased to see another solution that has found a market which allows the recycling and re-use of these plastic well pad liners.”
Jay Alexander, general manager of the Wayne Township Landfill in Clinton County, said, “Since the beginning of 2011, the Wayne Township Landfill has been very active in looking for sustainable recycling opportunities for the plastic liner material being removed from the natural gas well sites. In working with WellSpring Environmental Services, we have found a solution.”
He said the recycling facility set up in Berwick, Pa., by WellSpring’s partner, the Ultra-Poly Corp., “will create an excellent recycling opportunity for the natural gas industry to help keep this valuable commodity out of landfills.”
Alexander added that “we are appreciative of the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, which investigated how to recycle this liner and facilitated bringing this project to reality.”
Bylone said the recycling process used for well-site liners may also be applicable to the recycling of agricultural film plastic and that this could have further value across Pennsylvania. DEP has already issued permits to the two companies for the process.
WellSpring and Ultra-Poly have invested roughly a combined $4 million in research and development up to this point.
LaFiura said the partnership will generate 80 or more new jobs for Ultra-Poly, provide added job security for another 180 existing company jobs, and add an estimated $1 million per year to state and local tax revenues. Kreitzer said WellSpring would be adding another dozen employees and expanding its truck fleet.
Both men credited the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center for making the connection between the two companies and helping them shepherd the partnership into existence. They also said DEP had provided assistance with the permitting process.
This article was based on information provided by Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center Inc., WellSpring Environmental Services LLC and Ultra-Poly Corp.