Middle East players discuss produced water debottlenecking

The conversation largely revolved around the region’s encouraging performance in difficult times and best approaches to quicken the pace of critical technology development.
Produced water management optimization and debottlenecking projects at brownfield sites are occurring at a higher rate in the Middle East than in other parts of the world, panelists said during the Produced Water Society Middle East’s second virtual panel. Though activity in the region is still much lower than it was in 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related global economic crisis, demand for critical solutions is steadily growing to combat rising produced water volumes.
Saudi Aramco has taken a particular focus more on debottlenecking/optimization projects at brownfield sites. Process engineer Syed Ahmed explained that most of the company’s debottlenecking projects are related to enabling existing oil facilities to handle increased water cuts to ensure that production is sustained. 
Abu Dhabi’s national oil company, ADNOC, also has some brownfield projects that entail work such as upgrading internals at separation facilities to allow the company to manage wet crude as water cuts rise. However, the company has generally followed a modular approach to produced water handling facilities so that it can avoid debottlenecking headaches. For example, ADNOC prefers to invest in a 30,000-bbl/d skid and tie in additional skids as produced water volumes grow to reduce operational risk and avoid disturbing production activities.
“The strategy is not to debottleneck, because if you are looking, for example, to upgrade your hydrocyclone or internals, it will mean disruption to running operations and you are actually not sure if that will solve your issue or how long the shutdown will take,” Abdulla Malek, upstream advisor of production function at ADNOC, told the audience. 
The panelists also discussed the arc of innovation for produced water technologies and the need to speed up development. TechnipFMC’s vice-president of separation technology, Reda Akdim, noted that most of the technologies used have been around for decades due to the industry’s cautious approach.
“We are working in a quite conservative industry. New technologies are not accepted very fast because there is always the risk that when we introduce new technology, operations may suffer because that technology doesn’t work,” Akdim said.
Panelists felt that any new technologies deployed should have certain key features. For example, a minimized equipment footprint and increased produced water processing capacity are such critical elements that efficiency losses may even be acceptable in some circumstances. 
Regarding primary treatment technologies, some improvements can be made. Malek noted that gravity separators are great for handling large water volumes but pose challenges for dispersed oil removal, while hydrocyclones can perform separation well but are prone to clogging. Deepak Mehra, a technology specialist at National Oilwell Varco, said that the company was developing anti-fouling liners to avoid clogging issues. 
Digitalization is another area of interest for operators. Ahmed explained the need for technology providers to develop tools that allow for continuous, real-time monitoring of equipment performance, which will result in more effective operations. 
A winning strategy for both technology developers and operators to achieve their goals may be to engage in joint industry projects (JIPs). These types of collaboration could help operators experiencing slow in-house R&D cycles and provide technology companies with access to information from operators, such as operations data and details regarding day-to-day challenges. 
“Working with the end user would be very helpful in taking development to the next level,” Mehra said.