Casper buys water treatment chemicals from global supplier hit by Polar vortex, ransomware attack - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Casper buys water treatment chemicals from global supplier hit by Polar vortex, ransomware attack

Water pulled from the North Platte River is sent through an early stage of processing at the Central Wyoming Regional Water Treatment Plant. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — Casper area citizens have been asked to conserve water not because of a problem with any of the Central Wyoming Regional Water System’s own infrastructure but due to problems at a manufacturing plant which produces ferric chloride used to treat the water.

Mayor Steve Freel said during the Tuesday, July 20 Casper City Council meeting that the Central Wyoming Regional Water System has ferric chloride on hand and that the situation in the Casper area is not a “water crisis.”

“There is nothing that happened to our [water treatment] plant,” Feel said. He said citizens are being asked to limit the amount of water they use so that the Central Wyoming Regional Water System can save their existing supply of ferric chloride until the supply issue is addressed. “We’re trying to conserve the amount that we have on hand. …That’s why we’ve asked the public to cut back on watering.”

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The City of Casper purchases ferric chloride from Brenntag Pacific, a major global distributor of chemicals. The city council approved $191,452.92 in payments to Brenntag during their meeting Tuesday, a higher amount than usual. During their May 18 meeting, for instance, the council approved $30,764.80 in payments to Brenntag as shown in the bills and claims section of the council work packet.

While the city says the problem is due to an equipment failure at a chemical manufacturing plant, Brenntag has been dealing with various disruptions to their supply chain in recent months.

In March, the Independent Commodity Intelligence Service wrote that Brenntag, like other players in the industry, saw significant production shutdowns as the result of February’s polar vortex.

“Global chemical supply chains are under intense pressure thanks to the US Gulf polar storm, which knocked out a significant proportion of production capacity there, and ongoing problems with shortages of shipping containers plus road transport delays,” the ICIS said in March. “The supply crunch has led to record-breaking prices and panic buying by some consumer industries which are desperate to maintain security of supply.”

Brenntag CEO Christian Kohlpaintner told ICIS in March that he expected disruptions to shipping logistics to last until at least the third quarter of 2021, which began in July.

“Logistics costs and container prices are sky-rocketing by three to four times and we don’t see any relief over the next one or two  quarters,” Kohlpaintner said. “It’s the China to Europe route but it’s the same everywhere — colleagues in Asia have been talking to shipping companies which indicated this will last well into Q3.”

“Today it is not product price which is decisive, it is product availability which is decisive. We have to behave very responsibly in times of shortages and maintain supply to the market, to fulfill contractual obligations.”

Brenntag has also been impacted by a data breach after a hacking incident this April, according to BleepingComputer. The company faced a ransomware attack from DarkSide ransomware operators that targeted the company’s North America division.

“Brenntag confirmed the ransomware attack in an email statement sent to BleepingComputer on May 13, saying that it disconnected all impacted systems from the network after the incident was discovered to contain the threat,” BleepingComputer wrote. “The data exfiltrated by the DarkSide attackers includes ‘social security number, date of birth, driver’s license number, and select medical information.'”

Brenntag paid “$4.4 million to DarkSide for a decryptor and to prevent the ransomware gang from leaking the stolen data,” according to BleepingComputer.

The City of Casper says that the Central Wyoming Regional Water System is asking people to conserve water so that they can treat enough water for high summer demand. The chemical is used to treat the surface water drawn from the North Platte River, one of the Central Wyoming Regional Water System’s two sources of water. The other source is groundwater. 

The ferric chloride enables the facility to treat an additional 18 million gallons of water per day needed to meet the water demand from irrigating lawns during the summer months.

During the summer months, 70% of the water produced is drawn from the North Platte River, with the remaining 30% provided by the groundwater source. Groundwater is pumped from the North Platte River alluvial aquifer via 29 wells.

“The plant definitely can provide the region with enough safe drinking water,” said City of Casper Public Information Officer Beth Andress in a press release Friday. “The concern is really with irrigation and the increase of usage from that activity.” 

The disruption to the supply is expected to continue until mid-August.

RWS-serviced areas include: 

  • The City of Casper
  • Mile‐Hi Improvement District
  • Salt Creek JPB (Midwest & Edgerton)
  • Wardwell Water & Sewer District (Wardwell & Bar Nunn)
  • Pioneer Water & Sewer District
  • Poison Spider Improvement District
  • 33 Mile Road Improvement & Service District
  • Sandy Lake Estate Improvement District
  • Lakeview Improvement & Service District

The conservation request does not apply to those who use wells or raw water for their water source, the city says.

“At this time, we do not want to institute lawn watering restrictions,” said Andress. “We believe our water users will help us conserve.” 

Water conservation practices from landscape experts include:

• Significantly reduce the amount of water used for irrigation purposes — just enough to prevent browning.

• Water lawns and gardens during cooler hours. Refrain from watering from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Avoid watering during windy conditions.

• Repair leaking sprinkler systems.

• For trees, water with a hose and move the hose slowly around the trunk. New trees should be watered 2-3 times per week and established trees watered 2-3 times per month.

• Don’t allow water to pool or run along gutters or alleyways.

• Use a hose nozzle with an automatic shut off when washing vehicles.

• Use a broom rather than water to clean hard surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways.