Technologies, Trends, and Developments
For several months, a number of us involved with water treating have been thinking about how we would like to contribute to Oil and Gas Facilities. We had in mind a regular feature with an emphasis on water treating technology. The enthusiasm that we have heard is encouraging. A number of people came forward with good ideas for articles, themes, and a format.
We decided on a broad title, “Water Treating Insights,” and to make it primarily an editorial for the free expression of thought. It will be open to individual contributions that emphasize perspective, and to ideas about the challenges, the needs, and the direction of water treating in the oil and gas industry. Beyond that, it is pointless in trying to define common themes or issues because there are too many interesting and worthwhile ideas to cover.
Articles will feature technology within a scope of historical review, current and future needs; new developments; and what we might expect to see in coming years. We will also encourage discussions about the water treating business, what is or has driven various mergers and acquisitions, how the well-known companies came into being, and how they have evolved.
From the suggestions seen so far, the new magazine is going to be interesting, at times amusing, and we will do our best to make it insightful.
A significant number of technologies in the oil and gas industry are developed by individual industry or academic entrepreneurs, small companies, and small groups working in informal collaborations. That is particularly true in the water treating business. One of the first articles will be about the development of hydrocyclones. Hydrocyclones had been known for almost 100 years in other industries before they were modified to remove oil from water. Early hydrocyclones did not separate oil and water very well. Instead, they sheared the oil drops, making them smaller and more difficult to separate. However, once a proper geometry was developed, it was recognized immediately that they would have a significant role to play in the industry. The manner in which hydrocyclones were developed, the patents, and the collaborations and companies that were formed provide an interesting case study for technology development and implementation in our industry. It is a real life story that can inform us about various technology issues.
In the coming months, we will also focus on other technologies such as compact seawater deoxygenation, compact flotation, sulfate rejection membranes, chemistry, microbiological issues, and emerging technologies such as inline separators and subsea separation systems.
We will also look at technology development and acceptance from a general standpoint. Only a fraction of ideas are good enough to make their way into common use in the industry. For those ideas that do make it, the journey is often tortuous and progress is slow. In many cases, the saga of initial enthusiasm, followed by failed field trials, lack of further development, and difficult re-entry into the market is repeated over and over. As many of us know, the technology adoption curve is S-shaped with a flat beginning. Our industry is not necessarily unique in this regard, but it does have some unique aspects, and the timeline for our industry can span decades for some technologies. There is a lot of money to be saved and improvements to be gained if this cycle could be shortened. Common mistakes might be avoided by reviewing the lessons learned. Perhaps the technology development, acceptance/rejection, and possible adoption cycle can be sped up by identification of best practices. We have an article on the general subject of technology maturation, and are encouraging more.
Certain concepts in water treating are difficult to convey. For example, most testing work must be carried out in the field. In some cases, relevant and meaningful testing work can be set up in the lab, or at a remote pilot site using oil and water samples that have been transported and stored. Understanding why this is true in some cases, but not others, is a difficult concept. However, it has important implications for cost, schedule, and technical knowledge. We are preparing an article that will give practical advice and perspective on this important concept.
Another difficult-to-convey, but related, concept is that typical pilot, laboratory, and even field studies must have proper benchmarks. In other words, typical water treating studies are relative and only have meaning in comparison. A slightly different way of saying this is: Just because a technology works well in one location with one type of fluid does not mean that it will work well somewhere else. A future article will give practical advice on why this is the case and how studies may be designed with proper benchmarking to ensure that results from different studies can be compared with one another.
A subject that I have some passion for is about the hidden cost or true cost of water treating. I have presented the topic at workshops over the years, and have tried to write it as a technical paper, but it proved to be difficult. When mistakes are made, the true cost of water treating can reach 20 to 50 times the cost of equipment. Managing the typical lack of, or typically poor, quality of information, and designing flexible and robust systems are keys to avoiding major costly mistakes. They are not difficult to do, with proper attention to detail.
We also will publish “highlights and reviews.” We invite articles that provide background and reference material on a subject to help people get up to speed. These articles will not strictly be a literature review in the academic sense of a complete and comprehensive analysis of the state of knowledge. They will not strictly be conference or workshop highlights. They will contain elements of both. They will also contain practical experience and advice. Many of us believe that there is a need for this approach to knowledge sharing. A wealth of information is available from various sources on many subjects in water treating. However, it is hard to find them because good textbooks on water treating have not yet been published. We hope to fill this gap in a timely and practical way.
John Walsh is SPE Technical Director for Projects, Facilities, and Construction and a chemical process engineer at Shell.
He can be reached at John.M.Walsh@shell.com.
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