The U.S. oil and gas industry is king again. The U.S. will overtake Russia as the world’s top oil and gas producer by the end of 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported on Oct. 3. (http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=13251)
Oil and gas production in the U.S. has soared in recent years with the expansion of hydraulic fracturing. Since 2008, U.S. petroleum production has increased 7 quadrillion British thermal units (BTU). Natural gas production increased by 3 quadrillion BTU over the same period. Russia and Saudi Arabia each increased their combined hydrocarbon output by about 1 quadrillion BTU over the same period, EIA reports.
The industry growth has led to rising demand for wastewater treatment services. Between 2010 and 2016, global market revenues for companies that treat wastewater for the oil and gas industry will grow more than 100 percent to $1.9 billion, Frost & Sullivan reports. (http://www.environmental.frost.com).
One of the growth areas cited by the Frost & Sullivan report is the use of separation technologies. Oil skimmers play a critical role in the wastewater-treatment process. Certain types of oil-skimming technologies can improve removal efficiency and the volume of recovered oil.
The ability to separate and extract as much oil as possible from disposal pits ultimately increases revenues for companies trying to sell the reclaimed oil. Joe T. Smith Inc., an oilfield services company based in Hawley, Texas, attributes 40 percent of its recovered oil sales to the use of an oil skimmer.
Joe T. Smith removes and disposes of wastewater from oil-production sites. The company temporarily stores this saltwater in outdoor disposal pits. A certain amount of residual oil remains in the saltwater.
Removing the oil from the saltwater is important because:
- Oil that is exposed to the atmosphere degrades at a fairly rapid rate due to evaporation of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). These VOCs are not only an important and valuable part of the oil, but they enter the air as greenhouse gases as they evaporate.
- If the oil remains in the saltwater pumped from the pit into a porous-rock disposal well, it can clog the formation, reducing the effectiveness and life of the well.
- Allowing the oil to degrade reduces its value to refineries.
For the past 30 years, the company has used the same floating-tube style skimmer to continuously remove oil from its 500,000-gallon pit. The unit, an Oil Skimmers Inc. Model 6V Brill skimmer, uses a closed-loop tube to attract oil but not water.
The skimmer continuously draws the oil-covered tube through scrapers, which remove the oil, and returns the clean tube to the water surface to gather more oil. The skimmer recovers up to 25 barrels of oil per day from Joe T. Smith’s saltwater-disposal pit. The unit also has extended the life and reduced maintenance costs of the disposal well, says company President Hoss Smith. In addition, the system preserves oil quality, which allows the company to sell the oil at a higher price.
The ability to effectively remove and reuse oil from wastewater will become increasingly important as the U.S. oil and gas industry continues to expand. In addition to the potential revenue gains from reclaimed oil, technologies that minimize the environmental impact of oil and gas production ensure the industry’s long-term viability.
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