If you asked a group of eighth-graders what “produced water” is, you’d likely receive blank stares.
But if you posed that same question to Alexandra Hobstetter, daughter of Houston-based Veolia employee Jim Hobstetter, she’ll quickly tell you what it is, how it’s handled and why it is a major concern for the environment. She’d explain that produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and that it’s highly contaminated with a variety of dissolved salts and organic constituents. Therefore, it is commonly managed via deep well injection.
The environmental implications of injection wells can be significant. In the coal industry, for example, problems associated with acid mine drainage persist to this day, and have led to strict regulations to ensure the practice doesn’t intrude on the community. Further south, the injection of produced water has been linked to hundreds of small earthquakes in states like Oklahoma and Texas.
Alexandra (Allie) attends the Science Magnet Program at Seabrook Intermediate School in the Houston area. She entered the school’s annual science fair with an experiment assessing the effectiveness of Catawater, a biocatalyst product that claims to, among other things, reduce toxic ammonia nitrogen in produced water. She turned to Veolia’s engineering and technology team in Houston for support with real produced water samples, equipment and hardware (she did all the work, though).
After two months of rigorous testing, Allie’s findings indicated adding Catawater to produced water doesn’t noticeably reduce ammonia or total dissolved solids levels. It was excellent thinking, but the compound just doesn’t suffice on its own. This lack of simple solution reflects the realities oil and gas producers face every day when attempting to manage produced water and improve the efficiency with which they collect fuel from North American shale.
Some are exploring alternatives to deep well injection, assessing treatment chemistries that are based on related wastewaters from other industries and building dedicated or merchant water treatment facilities to clean produced water more efficiently.
Allie’s experiment demonstrates an important commitment to responsible resource management. This is especially important today, when resources are dwindling and younger generations are gradually redefining our relationship with the environment — while identifying ways to reuse whenever possible.
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