Environmental stewards ensure safe, clean ground water

The batch plant, where iron and water are mixed, before being used for pneumatic fracturing, is covered by tarp, Nov. 8, 2016, at the fracturing site on the west side of Kansas Street, at McConnell AFB, Kan. The iron mixture is injected into the soil to break down ground water contaminants into non-hazardous by-products. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Carla Stefaniak)

The batch plant, where iron and water are mixed, before being used for pneumatic fracturing, is covered by tarp, Nov. 8, 2016, at the fracturing site on the west side of Kansas Street, at McConnell AFB, Kan. The iron mixture is injected into the soil to break down ground water contaminants into non-hazardous by-products. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Carla Stefaniak)

Richard Needoba, Cascade general manager and base contractor uncovers the fracturing module, Nov. 8, 2016, at a pneumatic fracturing site on the west side of Kansas Street, at McConnell AFB, Kan. The fracturing model distributes pressure to create micro fractures in the soil. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Carla Stefaniak)

Richard Needoba, Cascade general manager and base contractor uncovers the fracturing module, Nov. 8, 2016, at a pneumatic fracturing site on the west side of Kansas Street, at McConnell AFB, Kan. The fracturing model distributes pressure to create micro fractures in the soil. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt. Carla Stefaniak)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
Driving around base, Airmen might notice large equipment drilling into the ground and workers wearing personal protective equipment.

This work is safe for the environment, personnel and the community, and is part of a base-wide effort to remediate soil and ground water contaminations at locations on base where there is known contamination from hazardous materials such as fuels, lubricants and solvents.

“Personnel working on the site wear proper equipment like steel-toed boots, gloves, hard hats, face shields and respiratory protection to protect against unwanted exposure,” said Ryan Shirk, site manager and AECOM contractor.

“Each site is cordoned off, giving sufficient space to ensure base personnel are well away and safe from accidental exposure,” said Cole Knight, Environmental Restoration Program manager and Air Force Civil Engineer Center representative assigned to McConnell.

“We believe it is important to actively work to minimize our environmental impact and do so in the most effective, safe and timely manner,” said Col. Phil Heseltine, 22nd Air Refueling Wing vice commander. “Our engineers and contractors are working hard to ensure the safety of the environment, our neighbors and our Airmen.”

The project contractor employs the use of a relatively safe process called pneumatic fracturing, which injects a gas, usually nitrogen, into the ground to loosen tight clay soils, which makes it easier to remove contaminants.

Pneumatic fracturing is similar to hydraulic fracking, but the injection pressure and the radius of influence are significantly less, so the impact on the land is reduced, said Knight.

After fracturing, a reactant, such as iron, is injected into the soil to break down the contaminants into non-hazardous by-products. Before injecting a reactant into the ground, the clay soils need to be fractured to increase soil permeability, said Knight.

The ongoing efforts are part of a Performance Based Remediation Contract, which spans 82 sites base-wide, and is intended to treat and prevent further spread of impacted ground water.

“The base endeavors to continually improve the processes and training in place to minimize any opportunity for spills and releases of hazardous materials to protect our environment,” said Heseltine.

Contractors are taking precautions so the work does not affect existing structures, such as the memorial walk, said Shirk.

The base has always been compliant with the best environmental cleanup practices of the time, but as laws and technologies change, the base strives to clean up old sites to meet today’s standards, said Richard Needoba, base contractor and general manager from Cascade.

“So far, there has been a significant reduction in contaminant groundwater concentration,” said Knight.

The latest round of work began in early September after nine months of investigation, and is scheduled to be completed by mid-January of next year. Follow-up work may be required later in 2017.