The state Department of Conservation wants to know more about Auburn's wastewater plant before the city can continue to accept certain types of polluted water.
The city council will decide today whether to hire an engineering firm to aid in evaluating the plant's capabilities. The evaluation would specifically focus on the plant's ability to process and treat water used for drilling natural gas wells.
Though Auburn has been taking the drilling waste for years, City Manager Mark Palesh said the DEC is asking cities accepting similar waste to look more closely at their programs.
If the resolution passes, the city will pay no more than $5,000 for a firm's services.
The city processes the waste for a fee, which Palesh said adds up to approximately $500,000 a year in revenue.
“Not to be able to do this would be a killer for us,” he said.
The water is used for a process known as hydraulic fracturing, through which rock formations are broken to collect more natural gas in a well. Hydraulic fracturing has become a more frequent topic of discussion in the state because a shale formation running under much of southwestern New York known as the Marcellus Shale contains a large amount of natural gas.
The mining process fills the fluid, also known as frac water, with various chemicals. According to the DEC, those additives could include some sort of friction reducer, a biocide that would control bacteria growth, a gel material, and other agents to prevent corrosion.
A DEC report on hydraulic fracture mining listed chemicals found in antifreeze and swimming pool cleaner as two compounds commonly found in frac water.
Yancey Roy, a DEC spokesman, said that the types of chemicals vary from mine to mine. A treatment plant needs to be specially equipped to take the fluid, Roy said.
“Plants are built to handle the material, and not every facility would have the capability,” he said.
Palesh said the city has already received verbal authorization to continue processing the frac water. But the authorization is contingent upon completion of an evaluation, he said.