Industry News

Operators Prefer to Manage Waste On-site

June 1, 2018

Transportation and logistics in the E&P industry continues to be a bur in the saddle of operators. Issues like safety, travel time and mileage, available trucks, available drivers, wear and tear on lease roads and drilling pads, emissions from trucks, illegal dumping, and driver experience are all part of what operators have to deal with from a transportation perspective. Because of the mobile nature of oil and gas drilling, the industry is historically transportation intensive, and the increase in activity has caused trucking rates to increase. From rigs to drilling fluids, sand to water, and sometimes even crude, nearly everything that enters or leaves an oil and gas location is by truck. Operators have worked diligently to reduce the amount of truck traffic, which often times leads to reduced cost. Drilling multi-well pads, better water transfer systems, and on-site waste management have all played a part in reducing the intensity of transportation in the E&P sector.

If all drilling wastes on U.S. land were hauled off-site for disposal, it would require roughly 5.5 million truckloads traveling approximately 275,000,000 miles, every year. 

Operators prefer on-site management of drilling wastes, due in part to the large volume of waste that is generated. According to the API, 1.21 bbls of drilling wastes are generated per foot drilled in the U.S., and in our experience, roughly half of that number is solid drilling waste, the drilled cuttings and mud that are retained on the cuttings. According to our calculations, over 391,000,000 bbls of drilling waste were generated in 2014 alone. That would correspond to roughly 5.5 million truck loads of drilling waste per year. Assuming that drilling locations are an average of 25 miles from a landfill (a very conservative estimate), this calculates to approximately 275,000,000 trucking miles per year, just for hauling these wastes. It’s no wonder why operators are working to develop solutions to better manage their wastes on-site.

No single recipe or solution is sufficient for all applications. 

Drilling wastes contain a suite of chemicals and compounds that can be harmful to the environment if not properly managed. Salts, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons are the most commonly found contaminants in drilled cuttings, but other potential contaminants include chemicals added to the drilling fluids, and materials encountered downhole, in the formations being drilled through. The physical and chemical properties of drilling wastes vary dramatically from well to well, and no single recipe or solution is sufficient for all applications. Therefore, drilling wastes must be actively managed by qualified personnel in order to ensure protection of human health and the environment. To make matters worse for operators, many companies offering on-site services for E&P wastes are not qualified, and are offering sham services or using smoke and mirrors to cheaply and ineffectively dispose of drilling wastes by ignoring certain contaminants altogether, using poor sampling procedures, utilizing incorrect testing methods, having a severe lack of quality control, and/or hiding behind a misinterpretation of the RCRA Subtitle C hazardous waste exemption. 

Drilling wastes must be actively managed by qualified personnel in order to ensure protection of human health and the environment. 

Drilling waste is a material issue for the oil and gas industry and should be managed as such, and on-site management is often preferred due to the costs and logistics associated with off-site disposal. Various technologies are available for on-site management, depending on which contaminants you are targeting; however, it is still important to consider all potential contaminants when selecting a waste management strategy. Drilling wastes should be managed by qualified personnel, and operators should be careful to avoid companies offering sham services or using smoke and mirrors to manage their wastes. Science and technology in the hands of qualified professionals, with appropriate quality control, quality assurance, and transparency is the best solution for on-site management of E&P wastes.

This article was written by Jeffrey Tyson, P.E. Copyright 2018, Scott Energy Technologies LLC.

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