A sustainable water source for unconventional operations

Pioneering solution will protect billions of gallons of groundwater.

A sustainable water source for unconventional operations

A significant milestone in environmental sustainability was recently achieved by Unconventional Resources (UR), with the commencement of a large-scale supply of treated sewage effluent (TSE) for fracturing operations. The realization of this strategic milestone was a direct result of efforts exerted over the course of five years, involving wide-ranging multidisciplinary technical studies, intensive laboratory research, and field-based trial testing, leading to availing a key component of the UR program — a sustainable water source for unconventional operations.

UR is a major initiative for Aramco, tasked with sourcing alternative hydrocarbons across the Kingdom. To unlock these resources, allowing the trapped hydrocarbons to flow to the surface requires extensive hydraulic fracturing operations. Fracturing, the art of splitting rock kilometers underground and propping open with sand, needs thousands of barrels of water for each well. 

Securing sustainable water supply

“From the onset of the program, a strategic pillar of our vision was the securing of a sustainable water supply. A team within our Well Completion Operations & Production Engineering Department (WCO&PED) was tasked to deliver this, and establish a sound and sustainable infrastructure for the alternative water sources,” said Ibrahim H. Al-Arnaout, manager of WCO&PED.

The WCO&PED water management team completed technical screenings of multiple water sources: seawater, brackish water, and TSE, as well as waterless alternatives. Selection criteria included fracturing’s chemical requirements; mitigating negative impacts on production, such as scaling, or bacteria growth; to be cost-effective, and capable of meeting future demand of the fracturing program. 

“Each solution was rigorously tested with tremendous support from EXPEC ARC laboratories before conducting field trials,” said Karim Mechkak, leader of the WCO&PED Water Management Team. One innovative solution in particular, TSE, showed high potential and was scrutinized across three phases:

• Laboratory work that included a complete microbial evaluation in downhole conditions, including assessing bacterial growth, which can inhibit efficient production

• Execution of the fracturing treatment to test new processes for successful and safe pumping of the fracturing treatment

• Evaluation of the trial test, which showed that TSE fracturing had similar to better results than using freshwater. Flow back data also showed no evidence of bacteria, confirming lab analyses.

Following excellent results from the trial tests, TSE was identified as the optimum solution to secure water for UR development. The Al-Omran TSE Processing Plant, operated by the National Water Company was identified as the best source, given its ideal geographic location. A complete solution for transfer, storage, and distribution of water was developed to supply water efficiently and at minimal costs — from the plant to the fracturing site.

Ultimately‭, ‬over the life of the project‭, ‬this pioneering water management solution will protect billions of barrels of groundwater for future generations‭.‬

Pushing the boundries

With TSE, the latest environmentally friendly initiative in unconventional operations, UR continues to push the boundaries of what is achievable. For example, a pilot greening initiative was recently undertaken to further enhance Jafurah’s local biodiversity, with the planting and supporting of trees utilizing the TSE supply and infrastructure.

Ultimately, over the life of the project, this pioneering water management solution will protect billions of barrels of groundwater for future generations.

“The TSE solution exemplifies the extent of innovation and dedication delivered in the UR program while keeping the environment, and the local community, in the forefront of our minds and our deeds,” said Khalid M. Al-Abdulqader, executive director of UR.


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