Energy Excellence Awards: Reducing fresh water use a common theme for environmental excellence finalists

The second annual Energy Excellence Awards (EEAs) program, presented by the Daily Oil Bulletin, uniquely recognizes energy excellence and focuses on the advancement of collaboration within Canada’s energy industry.

The country’s oil and gas industry is entering what could be the most challenging period it has ever experienced. While the current COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly touch each one of this year’s nominees, there may be no better time to celebrate the achievements of those developing the energy solutions for the future.

For 2020, the DOB received close to 90 nominations in four broad awards categories — Project Execution Excellence; Innovation & Technology Excellence; Exporting Excellence; and Environmental Excellence — recognizing work completed last year. The nominees were further broken down into 12 subcategories across the four groupings, before being judged by a committee of industry leaders.

From April 21 to May 6, we will be sharing the finalists in each of these subcategories. Today, we feature the best in Environmental Excellence in the subcategory of Cleantech: Water.

Special Note: Starting May 7, we’ll be hosting a series of special online webinar presentations to honour these companies and announce the champions in each category. Register here for these events. for these events.


Hydraulic fracturing, along with horizontal drilling, initiated the shale gas and tight oil revolution, a boon to the industry that reversed its long-term decline in North America. But it created a troublesome downside — a ferocious appetite for the water needed to pump downhole to fracture the rock and free the oil and gas.

Therefore, ever since the frac revolution got off the ground in the oughts, companies have struggled to find ways to reduce or eliminate fresh water use. Beyond cost reductions, doing so brings about a cascade of other benefits, from reduced water hauling, storage and disposal to all the associated environmental and health and safety enhancements that result from taking water out of the equation.

Trace Water Solutions Ltd. and Tourmaline Oil Corp. have taken different routes to get to a similar result — almost eliminating the need for fresh water for fracturing operations. Movac Mobile Vacuum Services Ltd. tackled water consumption in its area of expertise, vacuum trucks and semi-vac units, to also gain finalist status for Environmental Excellence in Cleantech: Water in this year’s Energy Excellence Awards.

Trace Water Solutions Ltd.: Waste not, want not for water

While over 90 per cent of water is commonly recycled in enhanced oil recovery operations and in situ oilsands production, until recently only a small fraction of frac flowback water has been reused, according to Pat Carswell, president of Trace Water Solutions.

The company hopes to change that with its n-SOX non-chemical treatment, which allows for 100 per cent of frac flowback to be re-used, dramatically lowering costs by reducing disposal and fluid transportation costs while providing reliable frac water sources, he said.

The company’s patented and propriety nano bubble technology removes H2S and other undesirables from flowback and produced water, effectively recycling for re-use as frac ready water.

Based on oxidization, the process takes sour impacted water and oxidizes the sulphide from the H2S to turn it into a sulphate, and then uses electro-coagulation to turn the sulphate into a solid. It is then filtered through a multimedia filter that can use crushed glass instead of sand, resulting in a longer lifespan and better filtration because the glass maintains its hardness and irregular shape longer than sand.

The technology not only significantly reduces the amount of fresh water used in upstream fracking operations, but will also reduce the amount of resources that are currently spent transporting sour impacted wastewater by truck to disposal.

Trace is working at building business relationships with various industry partners operating in the region of its Kaybob facility commissioned in the Fox Creek area last fall. Trace, which also deploys mobile units to sites in B.C. and Alberta, engaged with multiple locally owned businesses as well as a certified Aboriginal Business to get the Kaybob facility up and running. It sourced locally fabricated and used equipment to better support local industries, and reduce the impact of its operations.

“Freshwater used for fracking typically becomes a waste product after use, and is therefore taken to approved waste management facilities for downhole disposal,” stated the company. “Trace’s water treatment process means that 500,000 cubic metres of freshwater used for fracking each year can be treated and put back into the market for re-use, significantly reducing the need to pull freshwater from lakes, rivers and groundwater sources.

“Trace’s mobile units and fixed facilities mean that upstream operators are paying significantly less on water hauling, water sourcing and water disposal, making Canadian energy operations increasingly competitive on a global scale,” noted the company.

Tourmaline Oil Corp.: Recycling frac water exceeding expectations

Excessive water use is a challenge Tourmaline took on early, and it has maintained its lead with technology-driven changes that reduce consumption of fresh water and the volume of flowback water that must be injected into disposal wells.

Its water infrastructure was designed to increase the amount of recycled water used in fracking as well as reduce and eventually eliminate the need for fresh water. It has now reached the point where 100 per cent of frac flowback water in B.C. is recycled and 74 per cent of water used in B.C. operations is recycled.

Canada’s largest gas producer was one of the first operators in B.C. to use recycled water in hydraulic fracturing operations, and the first in Alberta to receive regulatory approval to use recycled water in hydraulic fracturing operations by constructing an engineered containment facility at its Banshee facility.

The company said it plans to eliminate virtually all fresh water usage in well stimulations in all core gas focused areas by 2022 and add to permanent recycled fluid inventories in Alberta and B.C. in order to continually advance usage of recycled fluid.

The technology consists of a series of pipelines, pumps, headers, controls, filters, heaters, temporary storage and flowback ponds that facilitate recycling most of the company’s produced and flowback water. The technology is supported by over 300,000 cubic metres of flowback water storage and over 120 kilometres of dedicated water pipelines.

Tourmaline’s commitment to reducing fresh water use in its — and the industry’s — hydraulic fracture operations is demonstrated by the numbers, with the company reusing over 895,000 cubic metres of water (293,000 in Alberta, 602,000 in B.C.) that would have otherwise been sent to disposal. The infrastructure is now at a size that has allowed Tourmaline to recycle third-party water from other producers, with over 50,000 cubic metres of third party recycling in 2019.

“Over the last few years we have significantly exceeded our expectations,” the company said. “Tourmaline is now recycling 95 per cent of our flowback water, with most wells in B.C. now completed using 100 per cent produced water and Deep Basin using about 50 per cent fresh water.”

Additional benefits include a significant greenhouse gas emissions reduction, as well as significantly better safety statistics brought about from reduced trucking, and much better public relations from reduced road use, the company said.

Movac Mobile Vacuum Services Ltd.: Doing more with less

A small family-owned oilfield service company took a different tact when it comes to water conservation, to great effect. In dramatically reducing its own water use, Calgary-based vacuum truck operator Movac Mobile Vacuum Services demonstrated a value that far exceeds the typical stereotypes for vac and water service companies within the energy industry.

Drilling and completions projects involve significant volumes of fresh water to clean out vacuum trucks, semi-vac units and end dump trailers, with up to 40 washouts per day. Each unit arriving at a disposal site or tailings pond is required to be washed out using approximately three to five cubic metres of fresh water per washout.

Movac’s goal was to limit the amount of fresh water required by designing, fabricating, proving and operating a Water Recirculation System that would capture, filter and reuse all fluids that are currently flowing into the tailings pond.

Movac would install a submersible recirculation pump with a filter within a bell hole at the end of the drain trench that captures the water sprayed into equipment being cleaned. The recirculation pump transfers the used fluids into a Movac recirculation tank that separates the water from the solids. The reusable filtered water is then transferred back to the Movac wash pump, which then supplies reusable wash water back to the cannon/tank washing system.

The company projected the Water Recirculation System would recover 50 per cent of the water being used to wash out the units. It would thus reduce the operating costs spent on fresh water to clean the units, cut the number of rental storage tanks required to store the fresh water and lower the fuel costs to keep the water warm in winter months (done through steam).

In addition, it would decrease the risk for the client with having fewer third-party companies onsite and reduce the amount of water trucks needed to supply water at the tailings pond, which has a significant impact from a safety perspective by having fewer units on the road and a positive impact on the environment by reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

In one month of operation, the system surpassed all expectations. It was able to clean 132 trucks with only 20 cubic metres of water. Previously at three cubic metres per washout, it would have taken 396 cubic metres of fresh water. This resulted in a 180 per cent decrease in water usage in the first month.

The previous system would have required approximately 20 trucks hauling water and 80 hours of driving time on client roads. With the new system Movac lowered that to one hauling truck and just four hours of driving time, providing a reduction in the required driving hours of 95 per cent.

Some 1,900 litres of fuel were saved, in addition to the emissions of 19 units on the road for 76 operator hours per month. As driving is one of the highest risk activities that Movac operators perform, reducing 76 hours of driving per month provides risk reduction on client roads for both Movac and the client, noted Movac.

Projected over a year of operations, Movac conservatively calculates the Water Recirculation System would save 472 truckloads equaling $236,000 in cost (with 9,540 cubic metres of water saved), $50,000 in operational costs (fuel and equipment) and 1,900 hours of units not on the roads.

Movac collaborated with existing operations and supply chain in order to ensure that the process would add fiscal, process and environmental value. Last September the client, one of Canada’s largest energy companies, awarded Movac the opportunity to implement the Water Recirculation System onsite.

To date, the amount of water savings is still increasing due to collaboration with the client. At the tailings pond during the month of January, Movac was able to wash out over 500 units with just 25 cubic metres of water. This would have taken over 1,500 cubic metres at a cost of over $35,000 before the Water Recirculation System was implemented.

The initiative has created a net new stream of revenue for Movac while diversifying its service offerings.

“Movac has gone from a company that primarily uses fossil fuels to generate its income, to providing a profitable service that saves a precious resource at a large cost savings to clients,” the company said. “The initiative has a positive impact on the environment with a focus on water sustainability and a reduction in emissions. The positive safety impact to the client is also a critical piece of the initiative.”


The Environmental Excellence awards category is brought to you by our Industry partner, Fluor Canada.

Since 1949, Fluor Canada has been involved in the engineering, procurement and construction of a wide range of energy related projects that are spread across the Canadian landscape. Throughout its 70-year history in Canada, Fluor has provided local, regional and international clients with full-service capabilities, which include economic evaluations, conceptual engineering, feasibility studies, program management, detailed engineering, procurement, transportation and logistics, modularization, fabrication, direct-hire construction, construction management, commissioning, start-up, operations and maintenance.