- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Anurag Bajpayee said he wants to expand his wastewater recycling system to Oklahoma to help the state deal with triggered earthquakes.

The CEO of Woburn, Massachusetts-based Gradiant Corp. is the latest in a series of entrepreneurs who proposed alternatives to injecting toxic, exceptionally salty byproducts of oil and gas drilling deep underground, The Journal Record (https://bit.ly/1Wmjm1n ) reported.

His process seems to have fewer issues than others, said oil and gas operator Kim Hatfield. But no one has yet brought an idea that would meet a driller’s needs to recycle tens of thousands of gallons at an affordable price without creating unintended consequences, he said.

Bajpayee developed a water condensing system as part of his Ph.D. thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The machine warms up water until it becomes vapor, and harmful contaminants such as barium and arsenic fall to the bottom. Water vapor flows through a metal filter, mixes with dry air and condenses as a liquid, similar to the rain cycle.

Gradiant is recycling water for oil and gas operators in Texas’ Permian and Delaware basins. The recycled water can then be sold back to customers for drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The remaining concentrated brine and mineral fluid is injected into disposal wells.

The ratio of freshwater to briny wastewater depends on many factors, including how salty the produced water is when it enters Gradiant’s machines. The range has been as high as 90 percent recycled water to 10 percent waste fluid, and as low as 50-50.

The price per barrel varies between 50 cents and $2. Costs are lowest when customers use pipelines to move the wastewater to and from the site, purchase the recycled water and contract to clean up 1,000 barrels per day or more.

Scientists agree fluid injected deep underground can lubricate faults in the earth’s rock layers and trigger earthquakes. However, researchers don’t agree on what mechanism causes Oklahoma’s seismic situation. Some theorized that large-volume injection wells are to blame. Others hypothesize injecting millions of barrels causes stress on an already stressed rock layer.

Hatfield, who is also the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association’s representative on the Governor’s Seismic Coordinating Council, said Bajpayee’s recycling process may work well in the dry, desert conditions in Midland, Texas. But the condensation process might not work well in Oklahoma when the humidity is high.

The concentrated brine solution has the potential to cause problems with disposal wells, with mineral scale clogging the holes in underground rock layer where wastewater should be stored, Hatfield said.

The price point is likely more economical for some companies, but would still be a tough sell when West Texas Intermediate prices are below $50 per barrel, as they have been for more than a year.

Dr. Scott Calhoun, CEO of SWC Production, proposed an alternative. His idea is to build a pipeline system to transport wastewater to the Oklahoma Panhandle and evaporate the water in open pits. Condensed water could be used to supplement the water level in Optima Lake and irrigate cropland.

Hatfield said that proposal won’t work for a number of reasons.

“I don’t know if I have enough ammunition to shoot enough holes that this plan deserves,” Hatfield said.

Most producers won’t spend the hundreds of thousands or more to build a pipeline system. Evaporating briny water requires an extraordinary amount of energy. Then Calhoun must dispose of the contaminated salt leftover.

Oklahoma Corporation Commission rules don’t allow operators to use pits to dispose of produced water. Pits can be used only for temporary storage near a disposal well.

The agency also allows operators to use lined pits for temporary storage of recycled water.

Using recycled wastewater to irrigate cropland is part of the governor’s drought-planning law, the Water for 2060 Act. But recycled water doesn’t yet meet that criterion; it is still considered a deleterious substance under OCC rules. The Legislature could amend the statute, but now it’s not legal, Hatfield said.

“Unless you can fill in all those gaps, it just won’t work,” he said.

After more than a year of examining potential alternatives to injecting wastewater deep underground, there hasn’t been one that meets all producers’ needs, he said.

“There are a whole lot of ideas that work a little bit or under specific conditions, like in a desert,” Hatfield said. “But trying to find that golden bullet that satisfies the economics and is broadly applicable and doesn’t create other problems, well, we’re still wrestling with that.”


Information from: The Journal Record, https://www.journalrecord.com

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