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First study from the Harsh Environment Technology Centre focuses on produced water

By Meaghan Whelan

The first comprehensive research study released from the American Bureau of Shipping Harsh Environment Technology Center (HETC), based at Memorial University, examines the challenges and management of water produced in association with energy operations in Arctic environments.

When oil and gas is extracted from an offshore source, the reservoir contains a mixture of water and gas. When the two are separated, a water stream containing hydrocarbons and other potential containments is created. This produced water represents the largest volume of waste from oil and gas operations and is associated with significant management costs.

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) recognized that many of its clients were concerned about produced water when it comes to arctic or harsh environment offshore developments, and the Harsh Environment Technology Centre, launched in 2009, was ideally positioned to look into the issue.

Dr. Kelly Hawboldt, associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Worakanok Thanyamata, post-doctoral fellow in process engineering, and Dr. Christina Bottaro, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, explored the effects of produced water on the Arctic environment where cold temperatures, fragile ecosystems and unmanned operations pose unique challenges. For Dr. Hawboldt, the connection with ABS was a significant benefit to her research.

“It was a very good experience. I was able to get ideas about what the industry concerns were about produced water, and it helps us know from a research perspective that we are on the right track,” she explained.

The current technology used to manage produced water was created for environments in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, where there is more space on the platform, and less harsh weather to contend with. “In harsh environments, equipment may not work as well; contaminants may be changing from liquid to solid or from a gas to a liquid; and any discharges into the environment will have more impact because the food webs are typically short in arctic regions,” she explained.

The study, Review of Produced Water Management and Challenges in Harsh/Arctic Environments, examines produced water characteristics, environmental impacts, current policy and regulations, as well as management techniques currently in use for produced water throughout the world. The paper highlights emerging technologies and suggests areas for further review.
Although there have been few studies on produced water discharged in the Arctic, Memorial has extensive experience with certain aspects of produced water, including modeling and treatment. “We are pleased to have sponsored the efforts of Memorial faculty who have undertaken this study,” said Roger Basu, director of shared technology with the Atlantic Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and head of the class society’s Harsh Environment program.

Mr. Basu says another study currently underway at the centre focuses on offshore drilling in harsh environments with the long-term goal of developing guidance from ABS. “We envision technical guidance in the form of a primer for offshore drilling in harsh environments. We expect it to take into account such concerns as logistics and exploration, well control, Arctic transportation systems and environmental challenges, including awareness for the regulatory framework,” he explained.

In addition, the ABS HETC will be working with industry to address the need for guidance regarding escape, evacuation and rescue (EER) systems on board vessels and offshore units operating in extreme cold weather climates. It is anticipated that guidance will be created that can serve as the basis for the development of an operators’ safety and emergency response plans for offshore installations.

The ABS Harsh Environment Technology Centre was created in 2009 to support the development of technologies for ships and offshore structures operating in harsh environments. It is an extension of ABS’ robust polar and harsh environment program located within ABS’ Technology department. Founded in 1862, ABS is a leading international classification society devoted to promoting the security of life, property and the marine environment through the development and verification of standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine-related facilities.