Reduce The Volume And Toxicity Of Your Waste – A Waste Minimization Guide For Oil And Gas

While waste minimization in oil and gas applications can be very challenging, source reduction is the ultimate goal of any waste minimization plan, otherwise known as pollution prevention. This involves the elimination of pollutants, reduction in toxicity, and a decrease in volume of wastes generated, wherever possible.

Source reduction minimizes contaminants released into the environment, reduces potential hazards to human health, and also saves money. Opportunities in industrial operations may be limited as some are necessary for production.  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 and can be very beneficial in doing so.

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, as outlined below.


The greatest opportunity for waste minimization lies in the planning stages. When considering 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: Designing the drilling fluid system should be done with waste minimization in mind. Several waste minimization opportunities exist for drilling fluid systems, including improved system monitoring, substitute fluids and improved solids control.

Even the design of the reserve pit is an opportunity for minimization. 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, while also minimizing water usage.

Oil Production: Design the site with spill prevention and containment top of mind, so that any releases of crude oil are contained. Operators can also design into production facility equipment additional trappings 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: During the process of purchasing and  installing 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

One of the easiest and most effective source reduction opportunities is product substitution 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.

Selecting drilling fluid additives that are less toxic and that will result in 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

This section will describe how reducing the amount of water used in various processes can also be an area where costs and waste can be reduced.

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:  Hydrotesting of lines can consume large volumes of water. 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

Inventory control combined with proper chemicals and material storage, 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 chemicals 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.

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