August marks the inaugural Roseland Texas Showdown, an oil and gas industry event that brings together professionals from exploration and production to discuss the venerable Permian Basin and faster growing shale plays like the Eagle Ford. National Driller will be there, but we wanted readers to get a sneak peek. We spoke with Mike Fields, president of WSI International, to give us a preview of what he’ll tell attendees. WSI International offers closed-loop systems for treating hydraulic fracking and produced water, so it’s a talk that should interest anyone in working in exploration and production.
This is an edited transcript of the first part of our conversation. See National Driller’s August issue for the second part.
Q. Based on your background in paper and pulp, can you talk about some of the challenges that oil and gas poses that you wouldn’t see serving the paper market?
A. Oil and gas has two major issues you have to watch for out in the field. One is, obviously, how you’re going to treat all the oils they use, a lot of other chemicals to keep it from freezing, they use chemicals in the fracking process. A lot of these hydrocarbon-type based chemicals have to be removed and they have to be removed with care. The reason I say that is, during the treatment process you’re removing what we call VOCs or volatile organic compounds. Those VOCs, we don’t see that in the paper industry. In the oil and gas industry a lot of this stuff is very volatile. You have methanol, ethanol, oil, diesel. These are volatiles, and when you start treating that you have to capture those volatiles. Those go into the atmosphere. … One of the interesting things is going to be when this new satellite goes up; I’m sure it’s going to be taking a look at the oil and gas fields, because one of the issues that oil and gas fields has done is not corrected their VOC issues. People that use ponds and things like this, they’re huge VOC emitters.
You become a super-emitter about 55 tons a year of VOCs. A lot of these ponds are producing 300 tons-plus by themselves.
Q. Now, you mentioned a satellite. I’m not familiar with that.
A. Well, they just launched a satellite to measure CO2 in the atmosphere. (Ed. note: NASA launched the OCO-2 satellite Fields mentions on July 2.) That happened two or three days ago. It’s going to be interesting, because I know one of the first things they’re going to point that at is all of these fracking fields, to see what kind of gas these guys are producing, which is not just CO2 but various other hydrocarbons going into the atmosphere as well.
"You become a super-emitter
about 55 tons a year of VOCs. A lot of these ponds are producing 300 tons-plus by themselves."
So, in the treatment process, I would say the most important thing is to be able to contend with the solids and to be able to contend with the VOCs that are generated during the treating process.
Q. How are the VOCs treated by your equipment? How are they captured?
A. There are several methods. Depending on the level of the VOCs, we can go anything as simple as carbon filtration all the way up to basically thermal oxidizing units. It just depends on the amount of VOCs that we have. We do capture everything internally, and it’s like a project we’re working on for the Middle East, everything has to be captured and sent to a destruction unit.
Q. Can you talk about specific installations of the WSI’s Drilling Rig Wastewater Treatment Module? What kind of sites or conditions is this product deployed in in the field?
A. I can’t really use company names. So far, the companies have been very adamant about using any names.
Q. I understand. Can you talk about some of the sites or conditions in which the product is deployed out in the field?
A. We have sites up in North Dakota that are treating production water that’s being brought in from the field. We get that ready for recycle or they’re at the site, again, manufacturing 10-pound brine with it. So, that becomes a valuable resource for them; they can recover that and use it for drilling fluids that are very expensive.
In Texas, we’re doing the same thing where you have a site where we’re recycling frack water and produced water — strictly for recycle. And there is beginning to pick up some 10-pound brine sales there.
We have systems operating in Colorado. One system is actually operating for recycle. The other system is operating to clean up the water before it goes down an injection well. That’s in order to save the injection well from being contaminated and ruined. The biggest issues they’re having with the injection wells right now, obviously, are the earthquake issues. One of the major guys in Colorado just got shut down because there’s been a couple of earthquakes with epicenters around that injection well.
Recycle is going to become very important in the future because they (oil and gas companies) are going to have to eliminate the ponds and they’re going to have to eliminate, pretty much, injection eventually.
Q. That’s just the direction all this is headed?
Q. So you’re in the U.S., obviously. You mentioned the Mideast. Are you kind of all over the place?
A. We’re all over the U.S., Mexico. We’re working in Colombia, as well as in the Middle East. And we’re just looking at China right now. I was just in China to look at their fracking operations that are getting ready to start up.
Q. I see a wide range of numbers when it comes to estimates of how much water it takes to hydraulic fracture an oil or gas well. Does WSI track that kind of information?
A. The reason for that, it runs anywhere from — depending on the well, the depth, and how far laterally you’re going — it ranges anywhere from 3 million gallons to 15 million gallons.
Q. Is that more to do with the area people are drilling in, how the well was designed?
A. It’s both geological — some of the shale formations are deeper and longer — and depending on how you want to do it. Like in North Dakota, they found out they can drill multiple holes on one pad, so they’re drilling six, eight, 12 holes on a single pad. That increases the water demand for each drilling side operation. So, it does range from a single well using, say, 3 million gallons all the way up to these multiple well pads using up to 15 million gallons. That’s what we’ve seen. It doesn’t mean that’s the in- and outside limit. But that’s what we’ve seen so far.
Q. Is there a percentage for water loss in this water treatment ecosystem?
A. What comes back out a hole, we recover 98 percent.
Q. Does WSI have plans to develop smaller-scale solutions for other types of drilling? For example, water well or mining markets?
A. We’re already working on mining markets. We’re doing stuff for arsenic removal and things like that. There’s a lot of arsenic in mining.
Q. Anything else you’d like my readers to know about you or WSI?
A. What we do is good, solid water technology. There’s no magic to it. ... Basically, you’ve got three things that come up every time there’s a huge water demand. And in the oil and gas it’s brought back to electro-coagulation, your magnetic flux field guys treating water, microwave guys. All of these technologies have been around, they’ve been tried and basically none of them have ever really worked. EC works on certain things, but it doesn’t remove the scaling agents so it’s not a standalone. And it’s very expensive, power-wise. So, basically what we’re offering is a system that comes from water and wastewater treatment technology that’s more economical than what they (competitors) are offering, and it works. That’s the key thing is, our system does work.
Q. So the water that’s yielded from your system can be disposed of in an injection well, like when they’re done with the drilling and development?
A. When the well’s all developed, normally what we do is that water is treated and then it’s pushed to the next well. We don’t treat it to go to an injection well, other than if a client wants to protect an injection well. Normally most of the water is recycled and then when it comes back we recycle it again and push it to the next well.
Several things cause a lot of issues in oil and gas. One is all the trucks on the highway. That’s causing huge problems. When you think about it, if you’re trying to transport in 3, 6, 15 million gallons in a 4,000 gallon truck, that’s a lot of trucks. So the idea is — our systems are mobile — so we can work on one frack pad, treat the water, and treat the water that is coming from behind us on wells they’ve already drilled that have production water. When we treat all that water, then we push it forward to the next one. We can lay pipes down to get it to the next one. When it gets so far out, in other words it begins to move away from us, the fracking is a couple miles away and we don’t want to lay pipe, we can take that equipment off of that well head and then move it forward within eight hours and start treating at the next site. So, we can kind of hop-scotch along.
One of the key things, probably, is to reduce the amount of trucking that’s in the oil and gas industry.