From The Editor | March 9, 2017

Will Water And Wastewater Treatment In The Oil And Gas Industry Change Under Trump?

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

OilWell

When Donald Trump became president, it was clear that his administration would provide an about face in almost every way from what the country had grown used to in the last eight years. Health insurance, the tax code, the military, nearly every facet of how the country is run became poised for change. Naturally, this did not exclude the domestic oil and gas industry, which promises to see an uptick in production.

Amongst this expected uptick in production, Trump’s U.S. EPA appointee Scott Pruitt is more than likely to pull back on the agency’s regulations on the industry. The combination creates an interesting future for water and wastewater treatment within the sector. This future was the topic of discussion during a recent panel from the New England Water Innovation Network (NEWIN), a water treatment technology industry group.

“All speakers agreed that under the new administration, we can expect to see growth in the oil, gas, and power sectors,” according to a NEWIN website for the event. “However, opportunities for water technology in these sectors remain linked to the federal government regulation and implementation of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.”

While oil and gas produced water management is already exempt from federal EPA oversight, changes to implementation of the Clean Water Act could put the burden of monitoring and enforcement of regulations at the state level. Oil and gas producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania already manage these programs themselves. If other states join them, it opens the door for an increase or decrease in regulatory scrutiny.

“The question is whether they will reduce the state level regulatory requirements if the federal oversight from the EPA is removed,” said Marcus Gay, NEWIN’s executive director.

Although the exact water and wastewater treatment requirements will be determined by how the new-look EPA decides to enforce regulations, just the increase in production so far gives NEWIN the feeling that treatment technology will see an increase as well.

“The actions of the Trump administration in the past month suggest that exploration and production of onshore hydrocarbon resources could increase, resulting in more water management and water technology opportunities,” said Philip Ashcroft, NEWIN chairman and board advisor to Buckthorn Partners, a private equity company focused on oil, gas, and water.

The question is: Which water and wastewater treatment technologies are poised to become more popular?

NEWIN believes that member companies like Gradiant Corporation and Oasys Water, which provide advanced treatment, stand a good chance of seeing growth under the new administration. Gradiant offers primary and secondary treatment as well as desalination, and boasts technology that can produce freshwater from brine with high total dissolved solids content at the same price point as produced water disposal or freshwater purchasing options. Oasys focuses on membrane systems like integrated forward osmosis that achieve high-recovery desalination, brine management, and zero liquid discharge.

But treatment technologies won’t be the only ones to benefit from more production.

“80 percent of the cost of oilfield produced water management is transportation, not treatment,” said Gay. “Exploration and production companies interested in reducing cost and minimizing environmental impacts focus on solutions that simplify logistics.”

NEWIN thinks that its member company SourceWater would benefit from an increased focus on transportation logistics. It provides software that helps operators locate fresh and non-freshwater supplies and disposal options that are close, organizing the options by cost, distance, availability, volume, and quality. This can help operations avoid transporting their produced water long distances for treatment and/or disposal.

These are just a few examples among many companies that provide the types of solutions that increased oil and gas production will call for. While the EPA stands to scale back on regulatory requirements, many are likely to enforce treatment standards of their own, creating a seemingly positive environment for treatment technology.

Image credit: "Oil Well" rocor © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/