Coming to A Cement Plant Near You? Burning Fracking Fluid

by jim on December 18, 2013

Fracking Fluid PondA Canadian LaFarge Cement plant wants to start using fracking fluid to replace fresh water it uses in its manufacturing process. 

The company's Brookfield plant in Nova Scotia is an ancient "wet kiln" that uses approximately 35 million liters of water from a near-by lake to produce cement. Fracking fluid that has been run through a reverse osmosis filtering process would be used as a parital substitute for this fresh water.

According to the local newspaper account, a LaFarge PR spokesman is quoted as saying “It’s safe enough to drink. The contaminants have been removed and the recycled waste water exceeds government guidelines to be released in the environment.”

But funny thing. Despute that assurance of safety, when the company ran a full page ad announcing its plans to use waste water, it forgot to mention that it was waste fracking fluid. Maybe because there's a moratorium on fracking in the Province while a review of its safety and public health impacts are investigated.

Local municipal Council Member Doug MacInnes said he spoke to the LaFarge plant manager about the ad.“He explained to me that it was worded that way so that it wouldn’t get the public upset."  According to the LaFarge manager,  "I think there is a negative connotation with fracking."

So where is the waste fracking fluid coming from? From two local holding ponds that have been containing the leftovers of three wells way back in 2007 and 2008. About 14 million litres of fresh water was used. When this water was regurgitated by the wells it was poured into the ponds. Many observers believe that although this first step is only a pilot test, LaFarge wants to begin importing fracking fluid from Canada's large oil and gas plays.


When it was burning hazardous wastes in its own wet kilns in Midlothian from 1986 to 2008, TXI Cement also charged companies for disposing of their industrial waste waters, which often contained Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs),  heavy metals, chlorine and other contaminants. Back then, it was called "recycling" and was defended by TXI as a way to reduce fresh water use, and costs. TXI used the "Long, Hot and Good For America" argument it always used to defend the burning of waste – that the high temperatures of the kiln destroy all the bad stuff. Only that's not true. Metals don't burn. Chlorine doesn't burn. And Dioxin can actually be created when plastics are burned.


And there was another problem unique to the disposal of wastewater.  The contaminants, especially the VOCs, were being lost to the atmosphere long before the water reached the plant's kilns with their 2500 degree temperatures – the rising heat stripped the pollutants out of the water and sent them up the stacks, causing an increase in pollution. For these reasons, EPA forced TXI to quit using industrial wastewater as a substitute for fresh water even before the wet kilns shut down permanently in 2008 and waste-burning was halted.


With fracking waste water, you get all these kinds of pollutants plus the added threat of radioactivity, of which there is no mention in any of the coverage about the LaFarge proposal. "Natural radioactive elements" as well as ones used in the drilling process have been known to contaminate fracking waste. Reverse osmosis won't be able to fix that.


We've written about idea of oil and gas fracking fluid flowing downhill to the cement plant industry – the least regulated option –  for disposal, most recently when it came up in Saudi Arabia. Now it's jumped the pond and has landed in North America. How long do you think it'll be before you see a cement plant near or in a US shale play that will propose the same thing?


One of the practical concerns of citizens over the plans of the LaFarge plant is the effect corrosive fracking fluid that's full of salt has on an industrial process dependent until now on fresh water.


The local Colchester County Council. is planning to send a letter of concern to Lafarge, the minister of Environment, and the local Department of Environment office. Last summer, council rewrote its sewage use bylaw and rejected an application by a local firm to dispose of treated frack waste through the municipal sewer system because of potential dangers to the environment. That same firm is the one that says it will filter the fracking fluid before sending it to LaFarge.

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