WVU Researcher Recognized for Work in Land Reclamation

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in News, Press Release

Morgantown, W.Va. — The American Society of Mining and Reclamation awarded its 2017 Pioneers in Reclamation Award to Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, for his significant impact to and advancement of the art and science of land reclamation over his career.

“The role of science is to make the world a better and safer place,” said Ziemkiewicz.

Making the world a better place is exactly what Ziemkiewicz has done over his 39 year career. It began with his training at Utah State University, where he graduated with a B.S. degree in biology. He then earned his M.S. in range ecology at Utah State University and his Ph.D. in forest ecology at the University of British Columbia.

In 1978, Ziemkiewicz became the director of the reclamation research program for Alberta Energy. While there, he developed a land use based mine reclamation strategy that was adopted by the Alberta Government.

In 1988, he moved to West Virginia to serve as director of the National Mine Land Reclamation Center at West Virginia University where he worked to address environmental impacts from historic coal mining. He has served as director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute since 1991. In this role he has worked to promote and implement scientifically sound strategies that prevent pollution from active mining.

In 1995, his research led the Federal Clean Streams Initiative to restore hundreds of miles of streams rendered lifeless by mining prior to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. As a result, West Virginia’s Cheat River, Maryland’s North Branch of the Potomac, Pennsylvania’s Conemaugh River and Kentucky’s Rock Creek are valuable fisheries.

Ziemkiewicz led the formulation of U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s acid mine drainage (AMD) policy in 1997. He received the 2005 Environmental Conservation Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. Ziemkiewicz has also contributed his expertise to agencies and companies in India, China, Poland, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa.

With funding from Colcom Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey, he launched 3 Rivers QUEST, a program to protect and improve water quality in the Upper Ohio River Basin in 2009. The program monitors the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers and their major tributaries.

In December 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declared 62 miles of the Monongahela River “impaired” for potable water use due to high salt content. The 3RQ program identified unregulated sulfates from coal mine water treatment facilities during low stream flow as the source of the problem. After meeting with industry representatives, he developed a computer model that adjusted treated discharge rates to river flow, thus maintaining salt levels well below drinking water standards. The industry voluntarily embraced the model and have used it since. As a result, after five years of 3RQ monitoring, PADEP and EPA declared the river no longer impaired.

When asked why he chose to focus on land reclamation and energy issues, he discussed growing up in western Pennsylvania in the 1950’s before any laws in reclamation existed. This gave him first-hand awareness of the need for technology and laws for reclamation. Receiving the 2017 Pioneers in Reclamation Award is extremely important to Ziemkiewicz.

“It is very gratifying to have recognition from my peers. ASMR is the original and internationally recognized organization for land restoration and I have an enormous respect for them.”

Other awards received by Ziemkiewicz include the 1985 E.M. Watkin Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Betterment of Land Reclamation from the Canadian Land Reclamation Association and the 2005 Environmental Conservation Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration.

Ziemkiewicz said he feels that his flexibility and ability to change focus have been most influential. Next in his career, he hopes to focus on cleaning up acid mine drainage and watersheds and grow fisheries on former mines by using the same technology that turned Cheat Lake into a first-class fishery.

WVU Study will Determine amount of rare earth elements in the region’s coal mining waste

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in News, Press Release

(Photo credit - WVU University Relations Communications)

(Photo credit – WVU University Relations Communications)

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. –The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory recently awarded West Virginia University (WVU) a project to survey acid mine drainage (AMD) solids to identify the concentration and amount of rare earth elements available in AMD solids.

The new project will sample and analyze AMD solids from 120 AMD treatment sites at coal mines across the northern and central Appalachian coal basins in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. This follows a February 2016 NETL award to WVU to explore the potential to recover and extract rare earth elements from AMD solids, a project that is currently underway.

Acid mine drainage from pre-law coal mines is a major stream pollutant in the Appalachian region. However, when treated to meet current regulatory requirements, it yields solids that have proven enriched in critical rare earth elements.

“We will work with members of the coal industry and state agencies that are engaged in treating AMD to sample their solids” said Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute and principal investigator on the project.

This new effort is in support of the DOE’s ongoing program to recover rare earth elements from coal and coal by-products.

Rare earth elements are vital to the technology industry. These elements have numerous applications and are used in devices such as cell phones, medical equipment and defense applications. Conventional rare earth recovery methods are difficult, expensive and generate large volumes of contaminated waste.
In addition to providing a domestic supply of these critical industrial materials, this approach would incentivize AMD treatment and offset treatment costs while continuing to improve the quality of Appalachian streams.

Appalachian coal mines commonly generate AMD, when sulfide minerals in rock are exposed to air and water. This acid leaches rare earths from coal associated rock where it collects as AMD. Active coal mines are required to treat this AMD, which concentrates and precipitates rare earth elements.

“Together, the rare earths in AMD solids range in value from $45 to $125/kg and our early sampling indicated that AMD solids contain between 0.3 and 1.5 kg of total rare earth elements per ton of AMD solid” said Ziemkiewicz.

Ziemkiewicz, along with co-investigators Xingbo Liu, professor of mechanical engineering, and Aaron Noble, professor of mining engineering, in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources will estimate the volume of acid mine drainage that is available in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields, as well as the purity and amount of rare earth elements that could be recovered. The research team will be assisted by Ben Faulkner, an independent contractor from Princeton, West Virginia, who has extensive experience with acid mine drainage treatment plants across the Appalachian region.

“Acid mine drainage solids are generated at treatment plants, and Ben’s familiarity with these facilities will be a tremendous asset to the project,” said Ziemkiewicz.

CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia Water Research Institute
304.293.6958, Paul.Ziemkiewicz@mail.wvu.edu

Researchers at KU, WVU to strengthen water-stewardship practices for U.S. energy production

Written by Tracy Novak, National Research Center for Coal and Energy on . Posted in News, Press Release

Every year in the U.S., a whopping 20 billion barrels of water are generated as a byproduct of domestic oil and gas recovery, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Safe and environmentally responsible management of this “produced water” is important to energy companies, farmers, ecosystems and everyday people whose drinking water comes from associated aquifers.

Now, a joint research effort founded by the University of Kansas and West Virginia University — funded by a new $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation — aims to develop cutting-edge strategies for better management, treatment, protection and recovery of produced water. The scientists behind the work hope to establish a permanent center focused on research-proven best practices for handling produced water nationwide.

“Obviously, we need energy,” said Edward Peltier, KU associate professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, who is the primary investigator of the new project. “We use energy resources every day, and we’ll continue to use them. That means the better job we do producing energy in an efficient, clean manner — and not affecting other resources like water quality — the better off we are.”

Paul Ziemkiewicz, co-PI of the new grant and director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU, pointed out that until now there has been no nationally coordinated research effort to address issues tied to produced water.

“NSF’s support will create a national center for technology development as well as training and outreach to recruit a new generation of specialists to address this challenge,” he said.

All oil and gas production, whether by conventional or hydraulic fracturing methods, generates produced water. Its characteristics vary among the nation’s petroleum basins.

“It’s a combination of returned water injected into the ground as part of oil and gas recovery, as well as formation water, trapped inside the rock along with the petroleum — how much water comes out depends on the local geology. Kansas wells produce more water than oil,” Peltier said.

Ziemkiewicz added that Appalachian shale gas wells are net water consumers.

“So far, new well completions have absorbed most of our produced water, but as new completions decline, we need to find new ways to manage this water,” he said.

Across the country, this water has high salt content and other contaminants.

As a result, the researchers said there are issues with reusing water directly or discharging it on the surface. Currently, the leading form of disposal of produced water is reinjection into the subsurface. The practice has gained notoriety in some regions because of its association with earthquakes. Indeed, Kansas now puts regulatory curbs on deep-well re-injection of produced water.

The research under the new NSF grant will develop practices to improve the safety of deep-well injection and develop economical methods for treating produced water so that it can be reused.

“We want to come up with management and treatment techniques so we can reuse this water,” Peltier said. “It needs to be treated before it can be reused. This project is focused on ways to treat the water, to manage the production process so we have less wastewater to deal with and looking at the impact of water in ecosystems when it’s released. How much do we treat it so it doesn’t have harmful effects?”

Differences in the geology of plains Kansas and mountainous West Virginia mean the joint investigation into produced water at KU and WVU will have national application.

“We’ll initially focus on the central plains and Appalachian basins,” Peltier said. “We think there will broader applicability to the work we do that will apply to other petroleum basins.”

Moreover, the research assets of the partner institutions will complement each other. For instance, WVU operates the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory, a long-term field site supported by the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory. WVU researchers led by Ziemkiewicz are studying water used in hydraulic fracturing through the late stages of the produced water cycle.

Similarly, KU has field resources already established that will sustain the partnership.

“KU has the Tertiary Oil Recovery Program that has worked with oil producers in Kansas developing various recovery strategies and large-scale field tests,” Peltier said. “The goal here is both KU and WVU have overlap in energy and production and water treatment and protection. So we want to establish a long-term relationship, so even at end of this grant we’ll have additional cross-disciplinary and cross-university projects extending beyond the length of the grant.”

Students at both universities will benefit from new programs created by the grant, which the researchers said would help train a new generation of experts in sustainable oil and gas recovery practices.

“We’ll have undergraduate students cross-training each other’s universities and departments to strengthen research ties and match students with instructors at both schools, and we’ll have junior faculty going back and forth to establish partners they can work with in the lab, in the field and at the well in West Virginia,” said Peltier.

Programs involved in the new NSF grant include KU’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, Tertiary Oil Recovery Program and Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering. In addition to the Water Research Institute, the WVU team includes Lance Lin, civil and environmental engineering Harry Finklea, chemistry Joe Donovan, geology Todd Petty and Eric Merriam of wildlife and fisheries, and Shawn Grushecky of the Energy Land Management Program.

-WVU-

CONTACT: Tracy Novak, National Research Center for Coal and Energy
304.293.6928, Tracy.Novak@mail.wvu.edu

WVU researcher leads study identifying active reservoir management as a safer method for underground CO2 storage

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in News, Press Release

In a recently published study, a team of researchers identified a process for managing reservoir pressure that improves the safety of underground carbon storage.

The study team, led by Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University and researchers from the University of Wyoming, and Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories published their findings in the August 2016 issue of the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control.

Efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion hinge on capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) and permanently storing it. However, finding a permanent home for CO2 is not a simple matter. One option is to store the CO2 deep underground.

Underground storage of CO2 involves pressurizing it to the point where it becomes a liquid and forcing it into porous, deep geological rock formations like sandstone.

These formations have an overlying cap rock formation that will prevent seepage to the surface. Unfortunately, the pore spaces in these deep rock formations are invariably filled with saline water, or brine.

“Water is not very compressible,” said Ziemkiewicz. “If you try to inject carbon dioxide into the formation you need to do so under pressure and then it acts like a piston, transferring that pressurized water to the weakest part of the system. If that pressure is too high it will fracture the cap rock and the CO2 escapes.”

Without pressure management, the best outcome is that the carbon dioxide dissipates gradually through the target formation and remains where it belongs. However, that leaves a lot of uncertainty and restricts the rate at which carbon dioxide can be put into an injection well.

As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency has placed very stringent conditions on carbon storage wells. Regulated as class VI injection wells, the liabilities associated with them are essentially perpetual and few companies are willing to assume that level of financial risk.

Ziemkiewicz pointed out that the carbon storage issue is one of the major factors restricting the adoption of carbon capture technologies “but, if we can manage water in the target formation, we can manage pressure and ultimately, risk.”

In the study, the research team describes a process for controlling reservoir pressure by pumping brine from the target formation prior to carbon dioxide injection.

A single well is used to first withdraw brine then fill the de-watered voids with liquid carbon dioxide. That way, rather than using carbon dioxide to push water out of the way, which can cause unpredictable fracturing, it fills a prepared void and most of the formation’s porous spaces can be used for carbon storage.

This increases reservoir storage capacity and the CO2 never has a chance to build up excessive pressure and stays where it should. The produced brine can be treated for beneficial use.

Dr. Jeri Sullivan Graham, co-author from Los Alamos National Laboratory, points out that the extracted saline water may be a valuable resource if economical desalination can be achieved.

“The water from the formations that we studied in the Tianjin region is brackish-that is, relatively low in salinity. This means that desalination and reuse of the water in this very water-stressed region is highly feasible and could be a game-changer in terms of water resource augmentation.”

Once a zone around a well is filled with carbon dioxide, another well can be developed to repeat the cycle. By replacing withdrawn water with carbon dioxide, the pressure can be returned to the original level, preventing either cap rock fracture or subsidence.

“Another benefit of removing brine prior to storing CO2 is that this removal provides the well-field operators important information about the character of the target formation before any CO2 is stored, which reduces operational risk.” said Dr. Thomas Buscheck, co-author of the study and earth scientist with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

This concept of using multi-purpose wells for reservoir characterization, injection, and withdrawal may be useful in developing other types of underground injection wells where cap rock fracturing and induced seismicity is an issue.

The project was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center’s Advanced Coal Technology Consortium (ACTC). The study is now available online at http://www.journals.elsevier.com/international-journal-of-greenhouse-gas-control/.

-WVU-

as/08/29/2016

CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia Water Research Institute
304.293.6958, Paul.Ziemkiewicz@mail.wvu.edu