Recycling oil wastewater
Oil is precious, but so is water. And if one goes by the facts, the latter is only proving to be a major environmental challenge where oil and gas recovery is concerned.
Wastewater, a by-product of oil production, is mostly dumped into landfills or injected back into the ground, leading to further groundwater contamination.
On the other hand, hydraulic fracturing utilises billions of gallons of water to frack wells for oil. In either case, the harsh environmental effects on the existing water resource cannot be ignored.
Mark Stanley and Abdullah al Mandhari, former colleagues at a leading oil service company, witnessed firsthand the damaging impact of oil production on water. That’s when they decided to switch camps and work towards water conservation instead.
After years of struggling to find a solution to the existing problem, US-based Stanley innovated a technology called the RecyClean Hydro-Pod, to treat the hazardous wastewater from oil production. What the technology offers is recycled clean water that can help reduce reliance on freshwater for fracking. It can also be used in industries and farms.
Already employed in several regions of the US and Canada, this technology was brought to Oman by Stanley with the assistance of Mandhari. “For every barrel of oil, Oman produces nine barrels of water. But this is not clean water...disposing of this water is a major headache,” says Mandhari, former global director with Weatherford based in Houston, Texas.
This is essentially water that has been locked up for millions of years and returns to surface during the production process. This water can contain higher concentrations of minerals and salts, Stanley, president and founder of RecyClean, explains.
Currently, due to the lack of a filtering system, dumping this polluted water back into the ground or into waste disposal wells appears to be the only solution in many parts of the world. This is, however, not an environmentally sound fix, said Mandhari.
He cites the example of Texas' depleting water resource. Texas, an oil-rich state, was once a thriving source of groundwater, Mandhari says. “But they were drilling wastewater into the ground. Today, Texas may have oil and gas, but they have absolutely no water. They are forced to truck water from other parts of the US.
“We did not want to be on the wrong side of the controversy,” Mandhari explains of why he decided to shift his energies on water preservation, rather than oil production. “We aren't against oil and gas. We need it and obviously can't do without it, unless people are willing to walk from Muscat to Dubai,” he says, adding that there was however, a need to solve the alarming water problem before it became a grave environmental issue.
“Fortunately, Mark had the idea of solving the problem and succeeded in doing it,” he says. Meanwhile, Mandhari left his job in Texas and started the Enhanced Oil Recovery company in the sultanate, which sends Omani engineers to the US to train in using the Hydro-Pod technology. Stanley’s ambitious project is already making waves in the US.
This March, his parent company Themark Corporation won the Water Management Company of the Year Award at the third annual Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Awards in Denver for the Hydro-Pod technology. “With this technology we can use around 93 per cent of our wastewater over and over again,” says Mandhari.
In California, recycled oil wastewater is being used for irrigating strawberry farms. “If oil water can be used to draw fruits, imagine how this could help Oman re-plan its ambitions in agriculture. Having massive access to water can open the floodgates to a world of opportunities and solve all environmental concerns related to water,” says Mandhari.
It could even help tap oil and gas activities like fracking, which nations across the world are shying away from because of the huge amounts of water required to extract shale oil, he added. We haven't even touched the surface of its potential, say Stanley and Mandhari. For the duo, it is just the first step to ensuring that lands across the world never run dry.
How does the technology work?
The wastewater is carried through 20ft long Hydro-Pods. The unit takes the water through two stages of treatment. The first stage is the ozone process, where the unit grabs oxygen from the atmosphere and feeds it into an ozone generator. The ozone breaks down all the organics present in the water.
“We use ozone because it is the most effective oxidising agent, and it is non-hazardous to humans and animals,” Stanley says. The second stage is the electrical coagulation process, where the solids are separated from the water. The water is then filtered through the Hydro-Pods and flows into another storage tank once cleaned. Each unit, Stanley says, can purify over 4,500 barrels of water a day.
The unit treats gel, slick water and wastewater generated from industries.