By David Esteppe
With winter weather and its associated road conditions, questions have arisen on social media websites about what people are seeing being sprayed onto the roads for de-icing.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) allows for the use of “natural gas well brines for roadway pre-wetting (brine mixed with rock salt and rock salt/abrasive mixes prior to roadway application), anti-icing (brine applied directly to roadway surfaces prior to precipitation), and de-icing (brine applied to roadway surfaces during and after the precipitation event). The approved use is limited to the wintertime application of natural gas well brines in order to minimize the formation of bonded snow and ice to roadway surfaces by utilizing the melting capabilities of salt brine.
The use of hydraulic fracturing return fluids associated with horizontal or vertical gas wells is not allowed by the WVDEP.
During Snow Removal and Ice Control (SRIC) season, Greenbrier County Administrator of the Division of Highways Pat McCabe has been very informative about protocols used in Greenbrier County. The de-icing process begins with a salt brine (water and salt) being sprayed onto the county roads in advance of impending inclement weather. Brine is sprayed onto the roads when precipitation marries temperatures below freezing and down to approximately 20 degrees, which is when the brine becomes ineffective at preventing ice from forming and snow from sticking to the roads. Below 20 degrees the material used on the roads switches from brine to an aggregate mixture of sand and gravel. On higher speed interstate, a calcium mixture may be used for SRIC. The salt used for Greenbrier County is currently purchased from a contracted vendor not affiliated with natural gas well brines.
Fairmont Brine Processing’s (FBP) Brian Kalt says, “As an environmentally responsible alternative to deep well injection, FBP is creating renewable resources. Through our patented evaporation and crystallization process, we are taking a waste stream from the natural resource extraction process and producing a very safe and clean sodium chloride rock salt that can be used to keep roadways safe during winterization efforts.” Kalt estimates the cost per ton of reclaimed salt to be about $45 in comparison to $60-100 per ton for mined salt. “The salt we reclaim is significantly more pure than mined salt,” he added.
Kalt says counties throughout the state are using the Fairmont brine processing plant’s reclaimed sodium chloride (salt) for the benefits to the environment and the major cost savings in doing so.