In an environmentally safe, less costly, and efficient manner, the disposal and recycling of millions of gallons of production water (brine water) and flowback water generated from the oil and gas industry annually continue to be challenging. While new technologies are on the horizon, there remains a long road ahead to their implementation.
In his article in Geosynthetic News, Neil Nowak writes in detail about three sites in Wyoming, Utah, and Texas that are evaporating or recycling water in geomembrane-lined ponds. Nowak’s article demonstrates the successful use of black high-density polyethylene (HDPE) liners to increase evaporation over clay or unlined ponds and using a white liner to reduce evaporation relative to a black liner.
Each project has been operational for several years; they continue to expand under their permits. Nowak takes us through a combination of favorable factors to the evaporative process, including the natural characteristics of each sites’ climate and the business and environmental goals.
The projects are interesting in that each facility provides oil and gas production companies in the area with a large commercial alternative to production water and flowback disposal versus numerous small ponds or disposal via injection wells.
About the Author: over 30 years of experience in the consulting engineering industry, including civil, solid waste, produced water impoundments, stormwater engineering, and construction projects.
Mr. Nowak has managed environmental compliance, evaporation pond design and permitting, and construction quality assurance activities across the Southwest. As a land-use planner and Environmental Engineer, he explains how various environmental technologies work under specific conditions to companies and the public. Often he is called to public comment meetings and county commissioner meetings, where he prepares and presents project details for review and approval. He works closely with local, state, and federal regulatory agencies to ensure that the engineering and construction of sites comply with all current applicable requirements.
A large renewable energy company had ambitious plans when it bought a decommissioned plant in Missouri: to mass-produce corn oil-based biodiesel with an eye to ramp up fast. But after investing millions to purchase and retrofit the facility, the company got a surprise. The municipal wastewater treatment plant underestimated the discharge limits; now, the operator could only run at 10 to 15% capacity to send its high-strength wastewater to the City.
There was an urgency to move forward to begin to get a return on a major investment, but as important was to have a viable, long-term solution. Vetting, building, and mobilizing what turned out to be a complex, sustainable system takes time.
The project entails a lot of research and understanding of what’s in the wastewater, production processes to reduce contaminants, and technologies and vendors to support the project from start to finish. SCS Engineers came in to assist.
Nathan Hamm, program lead for wastewater and liquids management practice, said:
It was clear that we would have to find an immediate, short-term solution while looking for a long-term answer to the wastewater problem. We quickly identified and helped our client connect with another treatment plant for the interim where it could transport wastewater. This enabled the ramp-up while we searched for an economically viable strategy to take them into the future and give them the option for growth even beyond their current expansion plans should they choose.
The initial goal was to find a way to partner with the City to enhance their treatment system so the client could stay local.
SCS worked with the City’s wastewater treatment consultant on a two-part answer: restoring an anaerobic digester owned by the City located at its wastewater treatment plant to increase capacity; building a dedicated wastewater force main/pipeline from the operation to the municipal treatment plant. It was an economical plan that would perform the intended function. But the City would only commit to this arrangement for five years.
“We needed more security and certainty so our client’s investment would return value over the long run. We began evaluating various systems for on-site wastewater treatment, looking at both anaerobic and aerobic options to treat the contaminated water,” Hamm says.
There are plenty of challenges to take on, such as high BOD strength, high sulfates, high temperatures, and in this case, limited spare plant space for a robust wastewater treatment system.
Following a wastewater characterization study to analyze what the plant was generating and identify process changes to reduce wastewater generation and contaminant concentrations, SCS whittled the alternatives down to anaerobic treatments. Compared to aerobic options, they are less energy-intensive and generate less sludge. As a bonus, they create methane to power the client’s boiler.
Ultimately, the selection was an anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR) system, which leverages bacteria to break down organics in untreated water and filters out solids. The operator now treats 100% of the wastewater on-site and discharges directly to the municipal treatment plant well below permit limits.
“What’s most important to our client is that with this investment they have complete control and for the long term. They own and run the system, are well-positioned to comply with discharge limits, even if they were to get tighter. And they are ready to increase production,” Hamm says.
Progressing from identifying a fitting technology to launching the whole system is a multi-leg journey. Early on, SCS vetted installations in several states from New York to Georgia and took the client to the top performers.
We vet first to ensure the system’s integrity and that it will serve our client’s needs. But it is important that once we do our due diligence, they see the system in operation and talk to operators about what they like and did not like.
Next, we helped evaluate proposals and assessed capital and operating costs to determine if they are reasonable and comprehensive to avoid costs later. There is a lot to digest, and we want to make sure our client has every bit of information to support their decision.
The SCS team negotiated a design-build contract then oversaw the construction process.
“We served as the liaison between the plant and contractor, which is important to safeguard that our client gets what they need and what they paid to get. Taking on this role helps us stay on top of scheduling moving faster while maintaining efficiency and safety,” Hamm says.
The foundation work was a project in and of itself. The structure needed to support numerous tanks and treatment vessels, including a 2-million gallon digester tank.
The design-builder originally hired another contractor for the foundation, but SCS could do the job for about half the cost.
“We brought in our geotechnical engineers and a vendor we knew working in the area to perform a thorough assessment and pile load test. Following the load testing, we were confident we could build a structure to support the system, limit the differential settlement to acceptable levels, and perform well,” Hamm says.
The new wastewater treatment system is up and running smoothly.
“We are on weekly calls even four months in to review performance tests confirming the system is operating effectively. And we have determined it is,” says Hamm.
“Our client is running at full capacity. They no longer haul wastewater offsite. They eliminated their hefty monthly wastewater treatment surcharges because they are discharging clean water. And they will likely pay off their investment in less than three years,” Hamm says.
Preparing for restrictive discharge limits, and treatment options… Read More »
Lately, landfill operators are putting stock in onsite landfill leachate treatment systems as a strategy to stay on top of increasing requirements in their already demanding regulatory world. Leachate treatment systems help meet tightening restrictions on liquids that landfills send to municipal wastewater treatment plants or discharge directly. And onsite leachate treatment gives operators … Read More »
Not long ago, a Utah food manufacturer turned to SCS with a persistent problem: high concentrations of fats, oils, and grease (FOG) in its wastewater— high enough to clog the city’s sewer line, knock it out of compliance, and cost it a steep surcharge year after year. As the plant worked toward a solution, … Read More »
In November 2020, this EPA Memo provides recommendations for an interim strategy to address PFAS monitoring in NPDES permits – both for wastewater and stormwater discharges. Jeff Marshall recommends reading it and highlights excerpts. Jeff notes it will be interesting to see how soon state permit writers begin adding PFAS monitoring requirements to landfill NPDES … Read More »
Mr. Lefebvre, a Professional Engineer in nine states recently joined the SCS Environmental Services team. He brings over three decades of experience as an environmental engineer and consultant specializing in soil and water remediation services for both government and business sectors.
Mr. Lefebvre manages remedial action plans, multi-media contamination assessments, industrial wastewater treatability studies and treatment system designs for SCS’s clients. He serves as an expert witness as well. He has designed and managed industrial wastewater treatment systems for the pharmaceutical industry; successfully remediated groundwater at petroleum Superfund sites; restored soil and groundwater at several RCRA sites; and was the Engineer of Record for a South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) project to protect the Everglades National Park.
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