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New Water Treatment Process Enhances Oil Recovery

Serendipity has played a role in many scientific discoveries.

Developing a water treatment method capable of separating oil-producing algae, bacteria, and other organic material during its algae-biofuel production process, OriginOil discovered that it works equally well on the water that accompanies the petroleum, bacteria, and organic solids extracted from oil and gas wells.

In an initial field trial, a mobile version of OriginOil’s Clean-Frac water treatment system removed 99% of organic materials in treating the produced water extracted from a producing oil well in Lost Hills, near Bakersfield, California, the company announced in a press release.

New Water Treatment Process Enhances Oil Recovery

Separating Oil from Water

Varying with geography, geology, and time, produced water is the blend of oil, grease, salts, other natural inorganic, and organic compounds or chemical additives used in extraction, and naturally occurring radioactive material extracted from oil and gas reservoirs. In addition to the water contained in the oil and gas reservoir itself, produced water can include water injected in the formation to enhance extraction, as well as any chemicals added during the production and treatment process — such as is the case in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Some 21 billion barrels per year (57 million barrels/day) of so-called produced water is extracted each year from nearly 1 million wells around the US, according to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). An average of seven barrels of produced water is extracted for every one barrel of oil from underground rock formations. (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons)

“Though produced water can be reused if certain water quality conditions are met, most produced water generated is simply disposed,” according to Argonne National Laboratory’s 2009 report, Produced Water Volumes and Management Practices in the United States.

That could change drastically if further testing confirms initial field trial results, and oil and gas industry execs pick up on OriginOil’s Clean-Frac.

Hosting the field trial, Pacific Coast Exploration believed the produced water from the Lost Hills well was nearly free of oil. Documented in the video below, OriginOil’s Clean-Frac process demonstrated that clearly wasn’t the case.

“The field trials demonstrated that the process removes almost all organics, suspended solids and bacteria from produced water, demonstrating the potential impact of OriginOil’s technology in enabling oil operators to extract more petroleum from process water and reduce fresh water use,” OriginOil states in their press release.

With a successful field trial under their belt, OriginOil’s executive team intends to take Clean-Frac and their Mobile Lab on the road.

“These first field trials confirmed what we’ve seen in the lab— up to a 99% reduction of organics in a matter of minutes,” OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry was quoted as saying. “This marks a major milestone as we refine and scale our technology for commercial deployment in the oil and gas industry.

“By increasing the amount of recoverable oil for producers, we have the potential for a compelling economic benefit. We now plan to take this equipment to Texas for similar demonstrations in San Antonio and Houston in late March.”

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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