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Company demonstrates system to clean oilfield water

A system to clean oil field-produced water is demonstrated Wednesday, Nov. 16, 20916, in Wasco, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo/Carol Ferguson)

After months of testing, this week a company is demonstrating their new system to clean waste water from oilfields.

They say the so-called "produced water" will end up as a beneficial new source to help the needs of local commercial, industrial and agriculture uses.

The project is now housed in a warehouse in Wasco, and on Wednesday they treated water that had been trucked in from an oilfield operation in Elk Hills. Brownish water that went into the process came out clear and odorless.

"That demonstrated that we do have the technology and ability to treat the water for beneficial re-use," Dundee Kelbel told Eyewitness News.

Kelbel is the manager of Sweetwater Tech Resources, they've been testing the process since this spring.

Thursday morning they'll have a second open house and demonstration, and they hope more agriculture and water spokesmen come out. The demonstration is in a big warehouse on J. Street in Wasco.

It's a three-step process, starting with separating out oil that's still in the water and some solids.

Next, the water goes through a ceramic filter.

"This part uses a membrane with pressure, and that'll stop all the oils and solids right on contact," Jason Lake explained from Water Planet. "We typically get removal of over 99 percent of the oil." His company has developed the special filter.

Lake says the final step of reverse osmosis "polishes" the water to an even higher quality. That removes dissolved solids, which are typically salt. They also remove other elements like boron.

He's pleased with the demonstration project.

"This is the first step of what we want to have, which is ten times the volume and capacity of a system like this," Lake said, "to be able to treat a lot more influent here, and we're displacing anyone that would typically be just injecting this into a disposal well, and then we'll be able to use this water in some beneficial ways, as well."

Kelbel says they're reaching out to oil producers who need to dispose of the water.

"The folks that we've talked to are interested," he said. Kelbel said those operators are facing fewer options for dealing with the water.

"Deep well injection disposal is going to be a thing of the past," he said. Kelbel also says ponds for disposal of produced water are coming under more scrutiny.

Kelbel says the process would probably be most useful to small, independent lease operators.

On the other end of the process, Kelbel says they're also contacting farmers and water district operators.

"They have a strong appetite for the water," he says. "Not only for potential irrigating water, but also processing water for nuts and other products and produce that come out of their fields."

But, how good is the water coming through their system? On Wednesday, geology professor Dr. Jan Gillespie was at the demonstration.

"I think it's great," she told Eyewitness News. "I'd really like to see this happen where people just said, 'This is what we do with our water.' Why wouldn't anybody do this?"

Gillespie is now working with a U.S. Geological Survey study to map protected ground water. She thinks the water from the new system would be safe for crops.

Kelbel says their process ends up with five products. He says they have a couple groups already very interested in their clean water, brine water, and solids. He says their other two products will be oil and boron. Boron's an element found in ground water in Kern County.

Kelbel says their next steps will be working with state water officials to meet quality standards. He says the plan is to provide water to agriculture operations that meet the standards each needs.

By December, Sweetwater Tech hopes to have a commercial operation going in the Wasco location, processing about 500 barrels a day for some local commercial and industrial needs.

They believe the system will help get more water from places where it's not needed to areas where it can be used. Kelbel says eventually facilities could be placed in an oilfield, and the one in the warehouse in Wasco is just the first step.

"This facility will process up to a million gallons of water per day," Kelbel said. "That's 25,000 barrels, it's a drop in the bucket for the oil industry. But, as a stepping stone, to be able to build, say larger industrial facilities, or engineered solutions specific to a particular oil producer or ag concern, it gives us that avenue where we have demonstrated our capability."

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