Saudi Aramco forges ahead with produced water desal plans

The project, which represents the first MVC application in the Middle East produced water environment, paves the way for reduced dependence on groundwater resources.
Chosen by Global Water Intelligence as the Industrial Project of the Year, Saudi Aramco’s produced water desalination pilot has proven the feasibility of desalinating hyper-saline produced water to generate water suitable for reuse applications. During the four-month project in eastern Saudi Arabia, the national oil company treated 250 bbl/d of produced water with a mechanical vapor compression (MVC) unit.
“The extreme salinity of produced water in Saudi Arabia makes it almost impossible for conventional desalination technologies to handle,” Hani Al Khalifa, senior operations advisor at Saudi Aramco, told WiO. “The  challenge was to handle the 100,000 mg/L salinity level and a second major issue was H2S [hydrogen sulfide] content, which can reach up to 130 ppm.”
The project successfully generated a distillate whose quality is ideal for reuse in operations including drilling, well maintenance and crude washing. The resulting concentrate can either be disposed or mixed with produced water and reinjected for enhanced oil recovery activities.
“We are now working to scale this up to the next level, and we are working with several  technology providers to develop a larger-scale unit for field deployment,” Al Khalifa said.
In line with Saudi Aramco’s overall environmental protection objectives, the team will also propose this desalination approach wherever feasible to reduce and eventually eliminate groundwater consumption by gas and oil separation plants and field activities overseen by the Southern Area Oil Operations (SAOO) division. Widespread implementation could reduce SAOO’s reliance on groundwater by more than 52 million bbl/y, a significant savings in a region facing severe freshwater scarcity.