National / International News
Inside a big industrial building in Pittsburgh, Mike Broeker shows off what he hopes is the next big thing in cleaning up the fracking business.
“We have three 8-foot diameter satellite dishes, these are the most common satellite dishes in the world,” says Broeker.
Broeker is COO of Epiphany Solar Water Systems, and no, he’s not selling telecom equipment. His company uses these satellite dishes to clean up the briny waste water that comes out of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells. This waste stream is toxic and it’s hard to clean—at least cheaply.
Epiphany’s satellite dishes are coated with highly reflective material, making them intense solar heat collectors. They use that heat to evaporate clean water out of tanks of the salty waste, which collects at well pads.
Broeker says it’s actually the same technology bootleggers use to make moonshine.
“It is the same concept; it is distillation,” Broeker says. Instead of making whiskey, Epiphany makes pure water.
A few years ago, the company started to treat drinking water in remote parts of the developing world. But when the fracking boom came, the company sensed an opportunity to jump into the fracking waste water business. A lot of other companies did, too. But it’s been a difficult technology to master—and few have succeeded.
“It’s such low quality water that the technology crashed and burned when they try to treat it,” says Brent Giles, an analyst with Lux Research. The high salt content of fracking waste water—it’s up to 10 times saltier than the ocean—has tripped up many companies. That much salt destroys equipment and clogs up filters.
It’s not hard to see why these companies tried to get into the fracking waste business. Lux estimates that it’s a $1 billion market right now, and could grow to $9 billion by the next decade.
Giles says right now it’s cheaper to recycle that waste or inject it underground. But underground disposal comes with its own issues. The USGS has linked underground injection to earthquakes.
Some in the fracking industry think regulation might make injection wells more expensive in the future. And if that happens, companies that can clean the water up could get a flood of new business.
There are raises, and then there’s the kind of raise that happens if you make partner at Goldman Sachs.
"It literally becomes a huge compensation event," says Mitchell Peskin, a partner at Execu|Search Group, a recruiting firm. "I mean a very large raise, and I mean the ability to now participate in the Goldman Sachs Partnership bonus pool."
If the pool is large enough, Peskin says, partners can make millions. Goldman Sachs didn’t respond to a request for information, but just the salary for a partner at the firm is estimated to be around $1,000,000.
“If money is important to you, and I would say it is to most people that work on Wall Street, it’s as good as it gets,” says Peskin.
Making partner means you’ve made it, and Goldman wants partners to feel that way, says Dr. Michael J. Driscoll, a clinical assistant professor of finance at Adelphi University.
“Because they want to keep the best and brightest, they don’t want them going to private equity firms, they don’t want them launching hedge funds on their own, possibly taking client contacts away from Goldman,” he says.
Plus, with the increased scrutiny and regulation that Wall Street and investment banks have come under in the last few years, Driscoll says there's an increased fear that talent will seek a landscape that's less under the noses of regulators.
Still, Driscoll believes partners shouldn't get too comfortable: "You’re not a made man for life; this isn’t the Mob." If partners fail to produce, says Driscoll, they could lose their title.
"But I don’t think people are shedding too many tears for those that are un-partnered, they’ll be just fine."