The Wellsville project is first of its kind in New York and will be a model for sites across the country.
As part of a global commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, Atlantic Richfield Company (AR) is taking a leadership role in pioneering greener environmental cleanup technologies. AR has turned to a more natural and environmentally friendly technology to clean groundwater and protect the Genesee River at a former Sinclair refinery site in Wellsville, New York.
AR has constructed a wetland treatment system that will use plants and natural processes to remove and break down dissolved petroleum compounds from groundwater and clean it to strict state and federal standards before releasing it back into the River.
The project, undertaken in cooperation with U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), is the first of its kind in New York and is part of AR’s commitment to using greener remediation technologies. Pat King, Vice-President of Global Operations for the Remediation Management function, said, "It just makes sense that the same people whose job it is to clean up industrial sites and protect the environment would try to identify ways to do our job in a greener, more environmentally friendly way. We are continually looking for ways to harness the power of nature to clean up environmental impacts and work to reduce our carbon footprint."
Eric Larson, the Wellsville Environmental Business Manager, said, "Nature uses wetlands every day to remove pollution and contamination. We’re giving nature a little nudge here by building in just a few years what might take nature 100 years to construct."
The wetland system is operating at better than 99% efficiency, exceeding state and federal clean water standards.
The system includes two major components necessary both to intercept groundwater before it can reach the River and then convey it through a series of wetland treatment cells. A series of pumps pull groundwater into a trench that is 3300 feet long and 28 feet deep. The trench, reaching all the way down to an impermeable clay layer below the surface, intercepts groundwater that might otherwise move to the River and conveys it to the top of the wetland system. There, the water is aerated (mixed with oxygen) by running through corrugated pipes before dropping into a sedimentation pond where the naturally occurring iron in the groundwater is removed before being released into the wetlands.
Over the course of 13 days, water travels by gravity through a series of wetland cells where native plants naturally break down hydrocarbon contamination and clean the water to meet strict state and federal water quality standards before it is released into the River.
Except for the pump system that initially conveys water to the wetlands, the project relies on gravity instead of electricity, thus requiring little to no power use.
AR worked with Alfred State College to hire its faculty and students to build design and maintain a solar-powered telemetry system that controls water levels in the cells, lowering water levels to prevent flooding and raising water levels in winter to prevent the wetland cells from freezing solid.
Deputy Operations Manager Joe Sontchi, who has actively worked on this project since its early stages, said, "We looked at a number of alternatives in Wellsville, including expanding the existing mechanical pump-and-treat system that operated here for many years, and selected the wetland treatment system as the best option for many reasons. The system will enhance the natural environment of the area, use less energy and thus reduce the project’s carbon footprint, and cost less to operate and maintain."
Larson, who oversaw the construction and launch of the project, said, "This really is one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on during my years with Atlantic Richfield Company. This technology won’t work at every site – a number of factors, including adequate space, have to be just right to make it work & but Wellsville offers a model for many other projects in New York and throughout the country."