Disposing of wastewater produced in oil and gas extraction is a major concern for energy companies because it is produced in large volumes and it is often very costly to treat. On many occasions, companies inject the water underground into deep wells but this activity often causes criticism, with opponents claiming that production wastewater damages the environment. Particles in production water can also be harmful to wells from a production point of view because they can slow down production or even block regular flow.
According to product development firm Cambridge Consultants, assessment of wastewater quality can take place in seconds. A new particle analysis technology the company has developed can give real-time information about potential contamination. The technology can detect oil, sand or wax in produced water at offshore sites, giving site operators instant information about how safe it would be to inject water underground without any negative consequences for the environment and the well itself.
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Dr. Frances Metcalfe, associate director, oil and gas, at Cambridge Consultants, commented that checking the levels of sand, oil or other additives in produced water is essential before it can be reinjected into a well. The patented technology utilizes a combination of various optical measurements and signal processing techniques to assess the size distribution of droplets and determines if these can interfere with production or cause any other potential problems, he explained.
The technology can evaluate droplets of all sizes, ranging from sub-micron to tens of microns in diameter. Real-time results are sent directly to an operator, giving companies more time to react in due time before a situation becomes critical.