Renewable Energy – MADEP Playing Catch-up with Regulations for Geothermal Wells
Proper well construction, water chemistry, and regulatory permits are three overlooked areas to geothermal heating/cooling systems and have led to underperforming systems, increased maintenance, and regulatory enforcement. The obstacles which dash the payback analysis of such systems may lurk underground ..…
Geothermal energy has different meanings depending on location and context. In the western United States young volcanic rock that is still cooling has enough heat to make superheated hot water, steam, and can drive a turbine to produce electricity. There is no cooling energy from this geology. In New England, we have the advantage of a stable year-round groundwater temperature of 51oF in bedrock. It is cool enough to extract heat in the summer and warm enough to deliver heat in the winter. The groundwater is the thermal transfer medium between the building and the earth with individual wells circulating groundwater 60 to 80 gallons per minute. 500 to 1,500 foot deep bedrock wells are constructed to circulate groundwater through heat exchangers located inside the building. It is the bedrock’s exceptionally high thermal capacity that quickly returns the groundwater to its original temperature for reuse. Groundwater is generally withdrawn and returned to the same well, referred to as a standing column well. It’s a well within a well where groundwater is extracted using a submersible pump located in the inner well (a.k.a. standing colum) and discharged to the same bore hole but outside the column. The discharged water returns to its natural temperature as it gets drawn to the bottom of the well for reuse. While much of the water is circulated within the bore hole, there is leakage to/from the surrounding bedrock aquifer. Geothermal wells are gaining ground right under our feet as a clean energy alternative for heating and cooling buildings. As energy costs continue to rise, geothermal heating/cooling systems become a more cost-effective energy alternative. Owners, developers and architects are increasingly making these systems part of their design, often qualifying for grants and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification points for their facility as a result.
Underground Problems to Geothermal Systems
Mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) design goes into geothermal heating/cooling systems which includes design and equipment selection of heat exchangers, circulation rates, return flows, bleed valves and sensors. However, problems may come from the underground. Improperly drilled bore holes, improperly constructed wells, corrosive and/or polluted groundwater, iron bacteria fouling, and inadequate well spacing for multiple well systems can lead to poorly functioning systems and prohibitive maintenance requirements for the well, well pump, and HVAC systems. Proper well design and technical oversight of the drilling and well installation are important to ensure that the bore hole is properly drilled, purged and the well is properly constructed by the contractor. If drilling in urban locations or through known pollution, considerations must be made to properly manage drill cuttings and ensure the well casing is securely sealed. Chemical analysis of the groundwater is important to determine if the water is corrosive or brackish if drilling near coastal water or tidal-influenced rivers, and to identify elevated iron and manganese levels that could level to excessive scaling or iron bacteria fouling.
Confusion over Permitting Leads to New Regulation and Enforcement
There is considerable confusion and misunderstanding over permitting requirements to construct a geothermal system. Many designers and contractors assume that regulatory requirements are similar to a standard water supply well – a one-time, no review registration. That is not the case and many geothermal well systems have not been permitted properly. For open loop systems where groundwater is being discharged back to the ground, more extensive permitting is required with applications that must be certified by a registered Professional Engineer. The permitting requirements do not necessarily mean a more expensive installation – wells that are properly designed, constructed and permitted will actually save money over the life of the system.
Geothermal wells are regulated under the federal Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program. This is a federal regulation is administered at the state level. In Massachusetts, it is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) under 310 CMR 27.00. Geothermal wells that are open-loop and discharge 15,000 gallon per day or more must apply for a groundwater discharge permit under 314 CMR 5.00. The standing column well described earlier is considered an open-loop system though much of the water is circulated within the well. In short, most geothermal well systems require a permit. The bleed water discharged to the ground need only be registered if less than 15,000 gpd. Bleed water that discharges directly to a wetland or surface water body requires a surface water discharge (a.k.a. NPDES) permit, and discharges to the municipal storm drain require written authorization from the local city or town. MADEP’s fact sheet on current permitting requirements can be found here.
MADEP is in the processing of drafting amendments to the groundwater discharge program (314 CMR 5.00) specifically for geothermal wells. The 15,000 gpd threshold would not apply and instead a General Permit category would be established. Geothermal wells for four and fewer residential units would be exempt from the General Permit and require UIC registration only. Projects above this threshold must apply for a General Permit from MADEP which may in turn require a comprehensive groundwater discharge permit application depending on the project’s specifics. Closed-loop geothermal systems, in which a circulating refrigerant fluid is contained in a close-loop pipe located vertically in the well or buried horizontally in shallow ground will require a General Permit application. Draft regulations available for public comment are expected by the summer 2008.
Do not hesitate to contact SAK Environmental, LLC at 978-688-7804 for additional information.
New and expanded compliance rules required to operate underground storage tanks (USTs) in Massachusetts are coming. An independent, third party certification will now be required every three years to verify compliance with permitting, functionality of monitoring equipment, and record keeping.
The Massachusetts Office of State Fire Marshall will be promulgating final amendments to 527 CMR 9.00 for the operation and maintenance of underground storage tank facilities. The amendments apply to any underground storage tank (UST) that store fuels. It is unclear if these new requirements will extend to tanks storing heating oils for on-site non-consumptive use. Existing provisions of 527 CMR 9.00, tanks and containers, specify requirements for permitting, spill containment, leak detection, and overfill protection. These requirements along with federal rules precipitated a wholesale-like upgrade of UST systems though the industry. The OSFM has found that while many tank owners/operators have upgraded their systems, they do not maintain their systems in compliance with the rules. For example, operators have not renewed tank registration, failed to maintain leak detection devices, or failed to document and reconcile leak detection data. The amendments are intended to ensure that the performance standards of operating UST facilities are met by requiring inspection and certification by a third party. Every three years, tank operators will be required to retain a Massachusetts Registered Professional Engineer (other licensed professionals may be designated) to evaluate a UST’s compliance with applicable regulations. Reviews for compliance certification will include checking that all necessary permits and licenses are maintained; checking that devices for overfill protection, spill containment, and leak detection are properly functioning; and verifying that record keeping is accurate, up to date and data is reconciled for malfunctions or leaks. The findings will be submitted to the OSFM.
Do not hesitate to contact SAK Environmental, LLC at 978-688-7804 for additional information.
The Massachusetts Senate Bill 2481, an Act to promote Safer Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals, has moved on to the House for committee review. A concept first introduced in 2003 as the “toxic ten chemical ban” bill. When enacted, this legislation will substantially increase funding to MADEP’s toxics use reduction program and establish a mechanism and timeline to identify and target selected chemicals for safer alternatives review and phase-out. Read more…
The bill includes the following funding:
$11,500,000 for the TURA program,
$1,500,000 for job retraining due to lost manufacturing jobs,
$1,500,000 for business transition assistance,
Technical assistance grants to organizations of consumers or workers focused on the impact of substitutions of safer alternatives in specific sections.
Under the bill, the TURInstitute will seek to reduce the presence of toxic or hazardous substances in products manufactured for use and sale in the Commonwealth, develop recognition programs to promote the reduction of priority toxic substances by industry, allow TURI to establish fees for the program; and provide “safer alternatives” training and assistance to citizens, community groups, nonprofit organizations and institutions, workers, labor representatives, businesses, product supply chains, and state and local government officials. The TURA Administrative Council shall select annually from 1 to 5 Higher Hazardous Substances and direct TURI to prepare and publish a “safer alternatives assessment report”. Based upon each completed safer alternatives assessment report, the TURA Administrative council shall designate assessed substances as Priority Toxic Substances. Not later than one year after the Council identifies a priority toxic substance, the MADEP shall develop a “chemical action plan” for that substance, focusing on priority uses, including uses in products. The goal of the chemical action plan shall be to require users of priority toxic substances to act as expeditiously as possible to ensure substitution of the priority toxic substances with a safer alternative, while acting to minimize job loss. Substitution of a safer alternative shall be required whenever the MADEP determines that there are appropriate safer alternatives that are feasible for specific uses of a priority toxic substance.
Based on a chemical action plan adopted by the TURA Administrative Council, the MADEP may promulgate regulations to restrict the use of priority toxic substances for specified uses and within consumer products. MADEP is allowed to revise existing the TURA fee structure to include wholesalers and distributors of products or services to where such products or services have been determined to be priority toxic substances uses, included those located outside the Commonwealth.
- Air Source Registration Statements for Massachusetts facilities –
1. April 15 for operating permit facilities
2. May 15 for non-operating permit annual filers
3. June 1, July 15 or August 1 for triennial filers.
Contact SAK Environmental, LLC if you are unsure of your filing deadline
- July 1 –
1. USEPA Toxic Release Inventory Form R
2. Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Plan Updates
3. Massachusetts TURA Form S
- Annual tank inspection (specific to your facility)
- Annual comprehensive storm water inspection (specific to your facility)
24-hour Paging System Enhances SAK Environmental, LLC Emergency Services.
SAK Environmental, LLC is now available 24-hours a day for emergency services, including on-call Licensed Site Professional services, for releases of oil and hazardous material. Call our 24-hour paging system at 978-205-0462 then enter your telephone number and we’ll respond immediately. SAK has provided emergency services to industry, transportation, utilities, and institutions.
New Service Area: Geothermal Wells. SAK Environmental, LLC is launching services for feasibility studies, design, installation, and permitting of geothermal wells. With more than 20 years experience in bore hole design, drilling inspection, and chemical evaluation for water supply wells, groundwater remediation wells, and deep aquifer monitoring, SAK is expanding into the geothermal/renewable energy industry. SAK’s technical experts include hydrogeologists, geologists, chemists, engineers, construction managers, and compliance specialists.
New Project Profile: Universal Rapid Assessment Sampling Plan. SAK Environmental, LLC developed a Universal Rapid Assessment Sampling Plan for a national utility company based in Boston, Massachusetts. The Plan was designed to systematically and efficiently complete an initial assessment of areas impacted by a release of hazardous material throughout the company’s service area, regardless of the circumstances and location. The Plan was successfully beta-tested using existing data from prior release events and successfully implemented on a new release. The Plan is being considered for roll-out to operating divisions across the United States.
New Project Profile: Wastewater minimization. SAK Environmental, LLC is assisting a national electronics company in a wastewater minimization project. Large quantities of hazardous waste are generated from washers. Though the waste is mostly water, the existing on-site waste water pretreatment system is not equipped or permitted to remove all metals. An evaporator is being considered to reduce the volume of waste and the cost of disposal. SAK prepared a Notice of Determination for submittal to MADEP to seek a waiver from a permit to treat hazardous waste. The waiver provision is less than 2 years old and SAK’s application would be the first submitted under the hazardous waste rule.