Equipment for Water Reuse and Recycling will Improve Oil Extraction in the Canadian Oil Sands

Water and wastewater treatment is fast becoming a restraint for the Canadian oil sands industry. With large volumes of fresh water being sourced and with expected growth for extraction in the oil sands, oil operators are seeking innovative ways to reuse and recycle wastewater. This market insight discusses the environmental strategies that can help operators limit their freshwater use; it also highlights key technologies in the industry. Topics include specific case studies as well as the strategies implemented and challenges faced in the oil sands. The base year is 2012.

Objectives of this Research Service

• Assess the current and future water management, consumption, and treatment required for oil production.
• Identify the potential trends of oil sands activity and areas of improvement for production.
• Identify strategies and future treatment solutions required for water treatment companies in Canada.
• Understand and identify opportunities for all suppliers in the value chain; help develop economic growth; and identify technologies, strategies, and initiatives to help operators meet and exceed the Canadian environmental regulations that are associated with water and wastewater management.

Key Questions

• Addressable Industry Challenge: The oil sands industry is one of the most environmentally challenging markets for operators to be compliant. Large volumes of water are consumed, large areas are deforested, and large amounts of toxic waste are produced. Can a viable market be fully compliant with environmental challenges?
• Oil Sands Industry: Of water reuse and recycling or innovative treatment processes, what are the best practices in place to help lower water consumption in the oil sands market?
• Components: What treatment technologies are needed to help lower water consumption? In addition to saved time and labor, what other benefits result from upgrading infrastructure?

Executive Summary

The challenge in the Industry—The oil sands industry is expected to grow at a fast rate. Given that the industry consumes very high volumes of water when extracting bitumen, competition among operators for freshwater will increase. Operators are being pushed by Alberta Environment’s regulations to reduce freshwater consumption by reuse and recycle strategies and to invest in water treatment technologies.

Potential Operator Savings—Operators are challenged by the expensive construction costs of on-site assembly for water treatment equipment and time delays that create cost overruns for projects. The logistics of a project are key to the industry. They are a target area for operators to benefit from and for water treatment manufacturers to grow from through innovative solutions. As water treatment equipment manufacturers innovate new efficient modular solutions, operators will save on installation costs, reduce the need for on-site labor, and curb project delays. Ultimately, freshwater usage and disposal costs will be lowered, and the there will be less of a need to source freshwater.

Targeted Areas to Consider—Operators need to focus on reusing wastewater and producing zero discharge for steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations. Treating brackish water and treating produced water are the most cost-effective treatment types and the most effective for reuse. Treating these types of water reduces the amount of freshwater used in the extraction process. Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques through de-oiling and emulsion separation will be key for higher yields and increased profitability.

Definitions—Water Types

Blowdown—Blowdown occurs in a steam turbine when a valve opens and releases any collected waste. It is commonly associated with cooling tower blowdown and boiler blowdown.

Boiler Blowdown—Boilers used in thermal recovery processes typically produce steam with a quality of about 80% water recovery. This results in X% of the boiler feed water not being vaporized. In SAGD processes, the effluent is separated. The separated water stream that leaves the boiler is called blowdown and has high concentrations of total dissolved solids (TDSs). These concentrations are X to X times more than what is in the boiler feed water.

Brackish Water (salty groundwater)—The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) directive describes brackish water as saline or salty groundwater. The Alberta Water (Ministerial) Regulation describes brackish water as that containing TDS exceeding parts per million. Such groundwater is termed “brackish water” by Petrinix and “saline groundwater” by the AER.

De-oiling—De-oiling describes the removal or separation of oil from a particular source or material. For the purpose of the study, de-oiling is defined as oil separation from water.

Fresh Water (non-saline groundwater or surface water)—The AER directive and PETRINEX define fresh water as either non-saline groundwater that has a TDS level of less than or equal to 4,000 parts per million. Also, it is defined in the Alberta Water (Ministerial) Regulation as “all water on the ground surface, whether in a liquid or solid state.” A freshwater source may be characterized by the following elements:
• A well, licensed by the AER, drilled greater thanXmeters
• A shallow well less than Xmeters
• A surface water source, such as a diversion point for a lake or river

Injection Facility—A system or collection of surface equipment associated with the injection or disposal of wastewater through underground wells.

Make-up Water—Make-up water is water that is used in thermal in-situ drilling operations other than produced water. This water must compensate for the water lost in the disposal of waste streams and boiler blowdown.

Produced Water—Produced water is contaminated water extracted as a byproduct of drilling hydrocarbon wells.

PETRINEX—PETRINEX is a strategic organization represented by the Alberta Department of Energy (DOE), the Canadian Association for Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the AER, the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (EPAC), and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Economy (ECON). It facilitates fast services for standardized, safe, and accurate management of drilling operations and provides an exchange of key volumetric, royalty, and commercial information.

SAGD—Steam-assisted gravity discharge is a thermal-enhanced oil recovery process that softens hard or very high viscous oil so that it can be pumped up to the surface. This involves the use of X horizontal wells drilled from a wellpad. Through these wells, steam is used to heat heavy oil to a high enough temperature so that viscosity is reduced and flow is increased.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)—TDS is a combination of organic and inorganic compounds found in water. These compounds include nitrates, calcium, sodium, and phosphates.

What are the Oil Sands?

• The oil sands formation is defined by CAPP as a naturally occurring combination of sand, clay, water, and bitumen. Its characteristics include the presence of heavy and extremely viscous oil that needs treatment before refineries are able transform it into usable products such as transportation fuels.
• Bitumen, one of the main constituents of the oil sands, is very thick oil, which does not flow or pump smoothly. Instead, heating and diluting bitumen, which is commonly found deep underground, are required to help ease extraction.
• Evolving treatment methods are being put into practice by oil sand producers as continuous research is conducted and technology is developed.
• According to the Energy Resources Conservationn Board (ERCB) of Canada, Alberta’s oil sands have more than 1.8 trillion barrels of bitumen in reserve, making Alberta, Canada one of the largest deposits of crude oil in the world.
• Historically, the oil sands have been mistakenly referred to as tar sands.
• Despite similar visual properties, tar and oil sands are different. Oil sand is a naturally occurring petrochemical, whereas tar is a synthetically produced substance that is mostly the waste product of hydrocarbon degradation.
• In addition, oil sands can be refined to make oil and, ultimately, fuel. However, tar cannot; it has been historically used as a sealant against moisture on roofing applications.

Table Of Contents

Table of Contents

Executive Summary 5
Definitions 7
Introduction and Overview 10
Treatment Technology and Market Landscape 19
Regulations and Requirements 26
Case Studies 31
Conclusion 36
Appendix 39
The Frost and Sullivan Story 42

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