Emissions from Produced Water Treatment Ponds, Uintah Basin, Utah, USA
Abstract:An aqueous phase, known as “produced water,” usually accompanies the hydrocarbon fluid phases that are extracted from Earth’s crust during oil and natural gas extraction. Produced water contains dissolved and suspended organics and other contaminants and hence cannot be discharged directly into the hydrosphere. One common disposal method is to discharge produced water into open-pit evaporation ponds. Spent hydraulic fracturing fluids are also often discharged into the same ponds. It is obvious to anyone with a healthy olfactory system that such ponds emit volatile organics to the atmosphere, but very little work has been done to characterize such emissions. Because oil, gas, and water phases are often in contact in geologic formations, we can expect that more highly soluble compounds (e.g., salts, alcohols, carbonyls, carboxyls, BTEX, etc.) partition preferentially into produced water. However, as the water in the ponds age, many physical, chemical, and biological processes alter the composition of the water, and therefore the composition and strength of volatile organic emissions. For example, some ponds are aerated to hasten evaporation, which also promotes oxidation of organics dissolved in the water. Some ponds are treated with microbes to promote bio-oxidation. In other words, emissions from ponds are expected to be a complex function of the composition of the water as it first enters the pond, and also of the age of the water and of its treatment history.
We have conducted many measurements of emissions from produced water ponds in the Uintah Basin of eastern Utah, both by flux chamber and by evacuated canister sampling with inverse modeling. These measurements include fluxes of CO2, CH4, methanol, and many other volatile organic gases. We have also measured chemical compositions and microbial content of water in the ponds. Results of these measurements will be reported.