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Into the wells

The Signal explores deep well injection site to see how process will work for SCV

Posted: February 1, 2014 10:11 p.m.
Updated: February 1, 2014 10:11 p.m.

This photo shows the pump for the deep well injection site.

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For more than 100 years, people have been drilling holes in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Some drilled for oil, some for minerals, many for water. But this year engineers with the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District are expected to drill wells to bury salty chloride brine extracted from wastewater destined for the Santa Clara River.

Three months ago, after years of wrangling over the best way to reduce the amount of chloride ending up in the river, district officials decided to bury the salty compound deep beneath the Santa Clarita Valley.

A chorus of public voices ­urged the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District Board to move forward with a plan calling for chloride discharged by the sanitation district to be removed by reverse osmosis technology, then buried deep underground.

Now, comes the job of removing the brine, digging the wells and proceeding with the plan to bury it.

But, what do the wells look like? Where will they go?

In setting out to answer these questions, The Signal visited a deep well injection site 60 miles from here to see first-hand what the “wells” look like and how they operate.

On Jan. 22, a Signal reporter stood over a deep well injection site dug six years ago as part of the Terminal Island Renewable Energy Project in San Pedro, the pride of Los Angeles city officials eager to demonstrate sustainability through innovative technology.

Mile underground

In the shadow of giant cranes erected at the Port of Long Beach loading docks, the project - first of its kind in the country - forces unwanted biosolids a mile underground and, through naturally-occurring biodegradation, generates useful energy-producing methane gas.

Biosolids are the solid component of the waste water treatment process.

Although the five wells earmarked for Santa Clarita have nothing to do with biosolids, the type of well picked by Santa Clarita Valley residents into which we would bury our unwanted brine looks and operates the same way as the deep well injection system at San Pedro.

The tour guide for the recent visit to San Pedro was Jeff Couture, facilities and engineering manager for GeoEnvironmental Technologies which built the system.

Couture began his tour with salty chloride-contaminated water - the very thing Santa Clarita Valley residents have been trying to get rid of for more than 10 years.

“The last thing we use to make the water clean is the reverse osmosis,” Couture said. “And from that, there is a residual or a waste product that we call brine. The brine comes to us in one pipe,” he said. “It goes into a holding tank. From there it is injected with 2,500 psi (pounds per square inch) of pressure down about a mile.

“Geologists have identified a good porous sand layer down there at about 5,000 feet. It is a layer 60 foot deep and that’s where we inject the material.”

A pipe 3 inches in diameter fits inside the larger 7-inch pipe.

“With these two pipes we can isolate the pressure,” Couture said. “We send a gun down there to perforate (the outer casing). The gun shoots off bullets in all directions, six shots per foot, perforating the casing.”

The brine - injected down the pipe under high pressure - is dispersed through the “bullet hole” perforations created by the “gun” and into the porous sandy layer.

‘Well’ a misnomer

To call the DWI wells “wells” is a bit of a misnomer.

They’re not like conventional water wells most people picture on a farm, 4-feet in diameter and 200 feet deep with a bucket attached to a rope, lowered by a crank. With deep well injection, there’s no “well” to fall into.

The DWI “well” is actually a mile-long pipe inserted into the ground.

Think of a 5,000-foot syringe, 7 inches in diameter, that punctures the ground. That’s the DWI well. The plunger on that syringe - keeping with the analogy - looks like a fire hydrant only double in size.

That’s it.

What takes up more space, however, is the pump needed to force the brine deep underground. That equipment takes up about as much space as a 40-foot RV.

Well location

The site where the wells would be located in the Santa Clarita Valley is expected to be the outer edge of the Tournament Players Club of Valencia on the west side of The Old Road.

Ray Tremblay, who heads the Facilities Planning Department for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, said he’s already working with the owners of the property.

“We would build one well first as what we call a test well,” he told The Signal. “We have good information that the sub-surface is suitable.”

Tremblay and his team selected the site near the Tournament Players Club after crossing other locations in the Santa Clarita Valley off the list, he said. The goal was to avoid drilling where there’s a fault line or underground oil or water.

If results of the test well come back positive, then a handful of other wells will be drilled in the same area, he said.

The site is on property owned by Newhall Land Development Inc.

“We met with Newhall Land, and they are amenable to further discussion,” Tremblay said.

The only notable inhabitant on the site is a cluster of oak trees deemed an oak tree preservation area on a conservation easement owned and managed by an environmental group.
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