By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor and Andrew Blanton, Corridor News Contributor
A new innovative advancement in clean water technology could soon make a large environmental impact, which could change the world, as we know it, forever.
Born out of the need from the oil and fracking industry, Challenger Water Solutions, based in San Marcos, Texas, has developed a mobile water purification system that can dramatically reduce the amount of water usage by oil producers and desalinate brine (salt) water.
“Many counties across south Texas are facing drinking and irrigation water shortages,” said Clint Layman, co-owner of Challenger Water Solutions, “And the usage by oil drilling and the fracking process makes people very frustrated. It’s amazing because Texas is running out of water, but we actually produce a ton of water in the oil field. There’s really no reason that we’re running out of water.”
This new innovative technology gives oil producers a clean and green recycling option, with zero chemicals, at a less expensive cost. It can take dirty fracking water through a cleaning process remove contaminants, sediment and rocks to produce clean brine water.
The First Step — Mobile Wastewater Recycling System
Oil producers use millions of gallons of water to pull oil and natural gas from wells around the world. According to a study done by USGS, a science bureau with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Eagle Ford Shale, Texas, used an average of 4.3 million gallons of water per well in 2012.
“For every one barrel of oil produced, there are six barrels of water,” Layman said. “It depends on the well, but it’s usually around six.”
However, the wastewater produced from fracking is full of bacteria, oil and other containments and brine, or salt. It’s black and smells of gas, sulfur and oil.
In order for producers to recycle or dispose of it, the wastewater must be transported to SWD’s, Saltwater Disposal facilities.
“I have seen oil companies that try to use produced or flow back water for fracking water,” Layman said. “And they will pump it back down into a well to try to save money on something they drilled just because of the disposal cost, fresh water cost, brine water cost.”
Waste disposal is supposed to be below the water table, but communities have faced water contamination from fracking waste. Disposal wells can lose their integrity over time and allow the contaminated brine water to leak into fresh water sources.
Operators will pull every last drop from wells before pumping the nasty brine water back into them. And the Railroad Commission has certified them to do so. Recycling the wastewater would reduce the chances of groundwater contamination.
Layman said SWD operators can charge 25 to 75 cents a barrel, and recycling technologies that actually work can cost $1 to $3. It depends on whether producers can afford to have the waste disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner or not.
Contamination by fracking wastewater seepage and the usage of freshwater resources by oil producers is what Challenger Water Solutions’ systems aim to resolve. It brings the Saltwater Recycling plants to the oilfields.
The Challenger system can take the black wastewater from fracking wells and remove everything but the brine on site. Producers can then reuse the water for their other fracking well operations.
Brine or saltwater is more corrosive than fresh water. The salt breaks down the sediment in fracking wells, creates fractures in the rock and releases the natural gas and oil into the water.
Layman was first introduced into the oil business in 2001 as a contract mechanic and fabricator for large fracking companies. The crash in the oil market in 2014-2015 created the need for cost innovations and advances in technology.
“This was about the time oil was going from $100 a barrel toward $30 a barrel,” Layman said. “And we were trying to raise money to build oil technology. Needless to say, we had a lot of meetings. We saw a need for the future of the oil and gas industry and just needed someone that recognized that future and was willing to invest in it. Not only is the current water recycling technology expensive, but also in many cases, it does not yield effective results.”
The challenges of oil production often create inconsistency in the brine water, and current technology must be adjusted in the field before the water can be re-used.
“I’ve literally watched people cry because they’re out on a site, and they’ve spent millions of dollars on this technology, and it just won’t work,” Layman said. “It works 100 percent of the time in the lab; it worked at this other place, but they went here. And they’re in the middle of a sales deal, and it just won’t work.”
Current water treatment technology can cost as much as $3 per barrel, Layman said, but brine water can be disposed of for as little as 25 cents per barrel.
“Whenever you go to someone and say, ‘well you can pump it down this wastewater disposal well; it’s not environmentally friendly, but it’s a quarter,” Layman said. “’Or you can pay me $3 a barrel, and I’m going to do it environmentally friendly’; they’re going to pick the quarter. At the end of the day, you’ve got to make a profit or you have no business.”
Oil producers’ primary expense is buying brine water by the barrel along with brine disposal, transportation and logistics.
“Recycling used dirty brine water into clean brine water in the field saves companies’ large amounts in transportation costs,” Layman said. “In an oilfield, it’s very difficult to force change. In order to change their mindset, you, kind of, have to operate within their rule set, by making it easy to use and implement.”
The Second Step — Mobile Desalination/Drinking Water System
According to the Railroad Commission of Texas, the primary reason operators don’t recycle is because it is too costly. Operators are required to transport their wastewater to SWD’s (saltwater disposal facilities.)
Saltwater Disposal facilities cost millions to build and run. The facilities have to employ their own scientists and engineers to run the systems. The Texas Railroad Commission requires special certifications for SWDs to operate, which takes months to get.
However, in March 2013, new rules were adopted by the commission in the hopes to foster more recycling efforts. The adopted changes allow Texas operators to recycle fluid on their own leases without a recycling permit, according to the Railroad Commission’s website.
Challenger Water Solutions technology can recycle 700,000 gallons of wastewater into clean brine water in 24 hours. The system requires less power than current technology, does not use chemicals and is clean and green.
“What we set out to do is basically make something, number one, that was mobile; number two, that did enough volume to make a difference and, number three, was something simple that I could train someone to run in two days,” Layman said.
But Challenger intends to take their system one step further. The current system is capable of turning dirty fresh water into drinking water. And the company is in the research and development stage of adding a desalinization feature to the system.
“The system is designed with the intention of making clean brine for drilling and fracking,” Layman said. “Now that phase one of the filtering system is completed and field tested with successful labs; we are moving into the desalinization phase to take it one step further. You can go from dirty saltwater to fresh clean drinking water.”
Layman said he believes the next evolution of the technology will be incorporating the new process into Challenger’s modular system. The company designed the system so that the expansion into drinking water is an easy add on, he said.
Though the project is still in the testing phases, the results have been better than Layman and his business partner, Troy West, anticipated.
Seeing is Believing
The San Marcos Corridor News and its consultants were given the opportunity to see both of the wastewater and the desalination system in action, as seeing is believing! Challenger’s purification system currently sits in a field near Nixon, Texas. Three 8×20 boxes sit surrounded by ten containers and three large steel barrels.
The first five containers filter out the solid particulates that are mixed in with the wastewater. After the water has been through the system, it’s pumped into the five remaining barrels for storage. The clean water can be seen flowing through the pipes. Challenger sends out scheduled water samples to be tested in several independent testing labs across the country.
But the Corridor News isn’t the only company to visit the site. Challenger is currently working with a Mexican Businessman who is looking to bring water recycling to Mexico’s oil wells. Layman said the Mexican national is looking to bring water recycling into Latin America.
“This Mexican company has access to unlimited potential water contracts across all of Latin America,” Layman said. “I’m not sure how Mexico handles disposal of oilfield wastewater, but I’m sure they can benefit from our system.”
If the deal succeeds, Challenger is looking at a contract of several hundred systems to be built right here in the “Innovation Corridor” and sent over the border.
Layman said one of his biggest hurdles was he needed to be 100 percent positive his product would work before he sought out investors. The problem he faced was there have been 100,000 people before him that said, “Oh, yeah I’ve got this,” he said.
“No one realizes Texas sits on something like 16 billion acre-feet of water,” Layman said. “But it’s all brine water. If we had more desalination plants, we’d have more water than most anybody in the United States, but we have to have logistical access to it. With the proper use of our mobile desalination system, we could make beneficial use of all this water for everyone.”
See for Yourself….as Seeing is Believing