Waste Minimization Planning For Oil and Gas – Reduce the Volume and Toxicity of your Waste

In oil and gas applications, the ultimate goal of any waste minimization plan is source reduction, otherwise known as pollution prevention. This involves the elimination, reduction in toxicity, and reduction in volume of wastes generated, wherever possible.

Source reduction minimizes pollutants released to the environment, reduces potential hazards to human health, while also saving you money. Opportunities in industrial operations may be limited as for example some wastes such as produced waters are a function of activity level. However, every effort should be made to take advantage of the opportunities that do exist.

Waste Minimization Opportunities in Oil and Gas Applications

There are many source reduction and recycling opportunities in drilling, oil production, natural gas treating and processing, and pipeline operations, which we summarize below.


The greatest waste minimization opportunities lie at the planning stages. When considering all new site locations and the associated road infrastructure, plan so that storm water runoff is diverted away from the location, and erosion is minimized. This will significantly minimize the volume of contaminated storm water runoff to be managed.

Drilling: The drilling fluid system should be designed with waste minimization in mind. Several waste minimization opportunities exist for drilling fluid systems, including improved system monitoring, substitute fluids and improved solids control.

The design of the reserve pit is another consideration. A major oil company designed a V-shaped pit that provided them with advantages with respect to waste generation and operational costs totaling over $10,000 USD, while also minimizing water usage.

Oil Production: A site should be designed with spill prevention and containment top of mind, so that any releases of crude oil are contained. Operators can also design into a production facility equipment such as drip pans, elevated flow lines, drip or spill containment devices and storage containers for chemicals and wastes to enhance waste minimization.

Gas Treating and Processing:

When planning for the installation of new equipment, consider the potential for waste generation when selecting the equipment. For example, glycol dehydrators can be designed with vapor recovery to control VOC emissions. Design the equipment, where possible, with containment structures appropriately located to contain any spills, leaks, or drips. If waste minimization is not possible, try to design a process that generates waste that is more suitable for recycling.

Product Substitution

Product substitution is one of the easiest and most effective source reduction opportunities within industrial applications:

Drilling: The substitution of low toxicity glycols, synthetic hydrocarbons, polymers, and esters for conventional oil-based drilling fluids is an effective drilling practice, which eliminates the generation of oil-contaminated cuttings and other contamination by the oil-based fluid.

An operator should try to select drilling fluid additives that are less toxic and that will result in a less toxic drilling waste. The best place to implement this product substitution strategy is at the design phase.

Drilling and Oil Production: Pipe connections require the use of pipe dope, which generally contains large volumes of lead, making disposal a concern. Operators can either ensure that all pipe dope is used and containers are completely empty, or they can substitute lead-free, biodegradable pipe dopes for API specified pipe dope.

Oil Production: Organic Solvents such as xylene and toluene have commonly been used for dissolution and removal of organic deposits in well bores and for producing formations. However, non-toxic solvents have now been developed that will readily substitute for these organic solvents, which could otherwise become hazardous waste.

Gas Treating and Processing: Amine process sludges are often high in sodium content, making them a challenge to dispose of. To eliminate sodium in amine process waste, substitute potassium hydroxide for sodium hydroxide to maintain a high pH in the process.

Amine sludges often also have elevated levels of nickel and copper, as a result of corrosion while the gas is being processed. The addition of potassium hydroxide to maintain pH during the process helps to minimize corrosion and therefore reduce the resulting presence of these metals in the sludge.

Reduce Water Use

Drilling: The use of high pressure, low volume nozzles on rigwash hoses can significantly reduce the volume of waste in a reserve pit and the water needs for the drilling operation. Where possible, collection and treatment of rigwash for reuse is an effective waste minimization technique.

An operator can also reclaim water from waste drilling fluids using mechanical or chemical separation techniques. The reclaimed water can then be reused, reducing both the demand and the cost of new water sources.

Pipelines: Large volumes of water are used to hydrotest lines. To reduce water use and water disposal costs, operators should wherever possible reuse hydrotest water to test as many lines as possible. In some instances, this can result in a significant reduction in waste management costs and water purchase costs.

Inventory Control

When combined with proper chemicals and material storage, inventory control offers one of the best opportunities for waste minimization, while also reducing regulatory compliance concerns and operating costs. Operators who track their chemicals and materials can use them more efficiently and reduce the volume of unusable chemical that must be managed as waste.

NWA Helps Industrial Clients Minimize Waste Production

National Waste Associates (NWA) has decades of experience providing expert waste management guidance to the industrial sector, including oil & gas and coal facilities. Our waste experts help our industrial customers to extract more value from their waste and to reduce their pollution potential.

We work directly with individual locations to develop effective waste minimization plans, and carry out constant waste analyses and surveys to identify recycling, diversion, repurposing and reuse opportunities to reduce our clients’ operational costs and regulatory burdens.

Need help refining your pollution prevention plan?
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