May 17, 2018
It makes Edison-area oilfield operator Michael Unsell sick to think about the roughly 40 billion gallons of wastewater that get flushed deep underground every year as part of local oil production.
If only there were an economical way to filter out boron, salt and other impurities from “produced water” that comes up from the ground with oil, he said. Perhaps then it could be sold to farmers or industrial water users.
“You’ve got to make it where you can reuse that water,” Unsell said.
A potential solution drew him and dozens of others Thursday to a Wasco facility that expects to begin recycling 210,000 gallons of produced water per day by July, and process perhaps twice that volume by the end of this year.
The wastewater treatment plant, owned by locally based Watershed Tech Services LLC, would receive produced water by truck from nearby oilfields and reuse all but about 6 percent of the incoming fluid, with the remainder being disposed of by conventional means, such as injection wells.
Watershed consultant-manager Dundee Kelbel said about 70 percent of the fluid exits the treatment process clean enough to exceed local drinking water standards. He said it can be used for purposes such as rinsing industrial equipment, controlling dust or making concrete.
About a quarter of the produced water ends up as brine water suitable for use as well drilling fluid.
“Ninety-three percent of it is beneficially reused by the community at large,” Kelbel said. The cleanest of the effluent might ultimately be used for irrigation, he added.
The plant is expected to create 12 to 20 jobs for local technicians.
The question of how to handle produced water has posed a serious challenge to Kern County oil producers for several years, as the traditional approaches — injection wells and evaporation ponds — have come under close scrutiny by state and local regulators.