Pilot project: oil waste water cleaned for agriculture use

A test project is underway in Wasco, Calif., Tuesday, March 22, 2016, of a system that aims to clean up oilfield waste water so it could be used in places like agriculture. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

A test project is underway in Wasco of a system that aims to clean up oilfield waste water so it could be used in places like agriculture. Spokesmen for the companies involved say they want to be the link that helps deal with water where it's not needed, and then connect it to beneficial reuse.

On Tuesday, Sweetwater Tech Resources was ready to start testing samples with special equipment now set up in a large facility.

"We're actually cleaning produced water, which is the salty water that comes up with a little bit of oil and grease and some solids," Sweetwater Manager Dundee Kelbel explained. He stood near a series of tanks and cabinets with equipment where the water will be treated. Produced water comes up when oil is pumped out, and oil companies need to find ways to dispose of that waste water.

"Our intent is to take that, and pre-treat that water so that on the back end the effluent water can be used in industry, and/ or agriculture," Kelbel said.

He expects to run tests on sample water every morning this week. He said the test period is to identify the strengths of their operating partners, to show how effective their technology is, and then have the results analyzed to show their financial sponsors.

Kelbel said the cleaning system includes a mechanical separator to pull oil and solids from the water, and then next a filtering process.

Water Planet's Jason Lake said the filtering system comes from his company, using a ceramic membrane.

"These are ultra filtration, it's very small pores," Lake described. "So, the water is able to pass through, but the oil and solids are stopped."

He said the process is repeated a second time. "It's really clean, it's down to a level that can be used in the fields for agricultural uses," he said.

Lake said the water can then be "polished" with even more cleaning.

And, Lake said their system can easily be scaled up to clean a lot of water.

The project is aiming for large volumes.

"Currently we have a system on site from Water Planet which does 500 barrels a day," Kelbel said Tuesday. "But, our intent is obviously to put in an industrial facility long term here inside this operation which would handle about 25,000 barrels -- a million gallons, if you will -- on a daily basis."

But, he said to the oil and gas industry, and to agriculture that's a small volume.

"Our real intent is to carry that to industrial sites there they'll be located in say a Lost Hills, or Belridge, or Kern, or Kern River (oil field area), so that you could go directly on site, using piping, to be able to eliminate operating costs, and be very beneficial to the local folks, doing anywhere from 75,000 to 150,000 barrels on a daily basis."

Kelbel hopes that could happen in a year to 18 months.

Oil operators are facing more regulations for injection wells and ponds where their produced water has been disposed. Sweetwater and their partner companies say the oil producers will pay them to deal with the water instead.

"Industries will pay us a fee for taking the water, and processing and treating the water," Kelbel said.

He said what's cleaned up could be bought by agriculture or other industries, other portions of what's left after treatment would have to be disposed of.

Kelbel said after the week or so of testing, they'll have the results analyzed by several labs. Those results will be passed to regulators.

Next, they want to bring the facility in the Wasco building up to what Kelbel calls a baseline industrial level, he'd like to see that by the end of the year.

He said they're cautious, but optimistic. Kelbel said they want to be the link between where there's water that's not needed, and where it is needed.

"That'll allow us to really help solve the needs of the community," Kebel said, "and to take advantage of as much water for beneficial reuse."

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