Midstream solutions for water and energy

Reducing Operating Risk and Lowering the Cost of Asset Management

Lower commodity prices and tighter capital markets are forcing owners and operators to invest more carefully in sustaining capital and debottlenecking projects.  Speed of project execution becomes paramount.

Traditional approaches to retrofits and asset integrity management (AIM) projects do not guarantee success.  Upgrading projects can be hampered by incomplete records, outdated P&ID's and inefficient execution.  Conventional AIM projects get bogged down by the cycle of site visits, redlining drawings, re-generating as-builts and filling in information gaps.  Traditional hazard and operability assessments (HAZOPs), especially when based on incomplete 2D as-builts, often generate more questions than answers.

Fortunately, innovative approaches to retrofits and debottlenecking combine 3D as-built tools with more concise decision-making to achieve break-through efficiency in investments.

ALARP (as low as reasonably practical) decision-making combines two concepts: reasonableness and practicability.  Unlike HAZOP approaches that have been developed to make selection of components during during design and greenfield developments, ALARP focuses on ageing assets where problems stem more from degradation and damage of components.  By distinguishing between unacceptable, tolerable and broadly acceptable levels of risk, ALARP avoids "boxing owners and operators into a corner" by providing a broader continuum of alternatives.

By combining ALARP with 3D imaging technology, owners are able to reduce the time-to-market for upgrading projects significantly.  3D as-builts and reverse-engineering, particularly across multiple facilities, allow owners to more systematically address potential deficiencies and rank mitigative alternatives.  ALARP results can be quickly converted to 3D prototype designs and cost estimates without requiring repeated site visits.  Subject matter experts and senior management can be brought in from around the world into "virtual" plant sites to vet the constructability and operability of proposed upgrades.  3D prototypes can be quickly converted to fabrication drawings and issued for construction quickly and efficiently.

It is estimated that the 3D-ALARP strategy can reduce project cost and duration by as much as 50%.  Equally important, the strategy allows asset managers to establish a more practical approach to assessing and managing risk across ageing assets.  Management of change documentation, critical for due diligence and insurance defense, is greatly enhanced.

Sustainable Solutions for First Nations Water Needs

The Government of Canada has pledged to end boil water advisories within First Nations reserves within 5 years.  Currently 93 different communities are operating under 133 different advisories.  Advisories are administrative instruments intended to bridge temporary conditions such as equipment malfunction, excessive agricultural runoff or other water quality excursions.  As boil water advisories become stale, the risk of illness due to inattentive water consumption increases dramatically. 

 Action to eliminate the advisories will require the efficient and timely deployment of capital for repair or replacement of systems servicing FN communities across a broad landscape.  Systems are often small and remote: further challenging designer, builder and operators to maintain a high level of service and reliability.  

Through our work with FN communities within Treaty 7 and Treaty 8, we have had the opportunity better understand the challenges that our neighbours have faced.  We have seen that historical investments in FN water infrastructure have met with mixed results. Early gains in drinking water or effluent quality have been difficult to maintain in the absence of the funds and expertise required to anticipate deterioration and troubleshoot problems. Through our work, we have identified several keys to optimizing the upcoming investment by Government of Canada while assuring long term performance of these new investments.

First and foremost, it is important to accelerate execution of projects.  There are thousands of small systems in existence around the world that are coping with a vast spectrum of water quality issues including runoff turbidity, pathogens, odour and taste.  The key is to shift the emphasis from assessment to action by reducing the percentage of funds spend on administration/study and increasing the percentage spent on design/fabrication.  This can be accomplished by relying more on performance-based contracts with fixed targets for budget, schedule and water quality rather than traditional project execution models.

Secondly, modular technology can be utilized to reduce site construction costs and allow for reinvestment of the savings towards better technology.  The remoteness of many FN communities significantly drives up the cost of site construction and the carbon footprint associated with site-built installations.  Modularization can reduce site construction costs up to 80% - again these funds can be used to improve environmental performance and water quality.

Thirdly, the transfer of knowledge and expertise to the host FN community needs to being during facility design, not after handover.  The lessons-learned during facility design, construction, commissioning and startup are the most important in understanding the robustness and capabilities of a system.

Fourthly, the Internet of Things creates a new opportunity to provide 24-7 connectivity between the equipment, the operator , the owner and the expert resources that can help anticipate, troubleshoot and respond to issues as they arise.  Sensing equipment installed in modular systems with internet/satellite connectivity facilitate the access to expert advice needed to guide operators through understanding their system and responding to problems.

Finally, co-investment by the technology provider, host FN community, government and 3rd party capital in the assets provides a unique opportunity to leverage the Government's investment and ensure the commitment of all parties towards a sustainable solution.  The combination of an appropriate capital structure and informed governance can dramatically reduce the life-cycle cost of the investment and avoid premature deterioration of asset integrity and system performance.

Fast-Track Repair, Retrofit and Replacement of Municipal Water Systems

The Government of Alberta has set aside $545 million over 5 years to repair and update rural water treatment facilities through the Alberta's Water For Life program.  Municipal governments have a number of options available to accelerate access to these funds and improve the speed of execution for water and wastewater solutions.

Firstly, the use of advanced 3D design and prototyping tools facilitates the fast-tracking of grant applications and reduce approval times.  Traditional design tools are based on two-dimensional software chassis that do not lend themselves to early visualization of the end product.  As such, consultation, notification and application processes consume valuable time as stakeholders struggle with the complexity of proposed systems that are not familiar to them.  Early creation of accurate 3D prototypes allows for meaningful engagement of all parties (constructors, operators, regulators, neighbours, First Nations) to understand the proposed solution, its impact on their interests and how they can contribute to more optimimal designs.

Secondly, a well-crafted design-build-operate-transfer contracting strategy can bring projects on line in less than half the time while ensuring the plant achieves fixed targets for budget, schedule and operational performance.  A variation of the dbot strategy has been utilized at award-winning wastewater plants at Banff and Jasper.  These plants are achieving superior nutrient removal targets and were delivered in less time than the Owners' original estimate.  In both cases, the contractor was allowed the flexibility to apply innovation to reduce CAPEX/OPEX while the Owner's engineer provided an independent verification without contributing to budget creep or schedule slippage.

Thirdly, the increased use of modular facilities can reduce site construction costs as much as 75%.  A modular execution strategy downsizes the budget for electrical/mechanical completion on site from "stick built" to "plug and play" levels.  Factory Acceptance Testing on completed assemblies combined with CSA-certification prior to shipment means problems are solved where the supply of specialty labour and replacement parts is much more readily available.

Fourthly, the use of life-cycle tools for estimating CAPEX and OPEX result in a better value proposition for the Owner.  By carefully evaluating the impact of lowest capital cost on long-term repair, replacement and operating expense, Owners can avoid the scenario of "penny-wise, pound-foolish".

Finally, a design-build-operate with a transfer back to the Owner upon "debugging" can yield the best of all worlds.  By taking a facility through a least one-cycle of extreme events, the design-build contractor remains committed to achieving performance targets in the most cost-effective manner and correcting any shortfalls.  For a surface water treatment plant, a high-turbidity spring freshet tests particle removal efficiency whereas a winter low-flow scenarios tests the vulnerability of systems to ice-in constraining water supply.  Likewise, operating wastewater plants through peaking events (such as Canada Day in a resort community) or low flow conditions (during mid-winter lulls) allows the design-builder to verify nutrient removal efficiency, address any equipment modifications and develop standard operating procedures for long-term operations.  The design-build contractor possesses the expertise on commissioning-startup-optimization while the Owner focuses on maintenance and routine operations - two very different skill sets that work best in a dbot.

As western Canada transitions from a "sellers market" inspired by high energy prices to a "buyers market" inspired by the need for better value, variations on a design-build-operate-transfer strategy offer Owners a mechanism to capitalize on the funding now being made available for infrastructure investment.

Sour Water Sweetening for Beneficial ReUse and Enhanced Oil Recovery

H2S in water is a problem that is common to municipal utility systems and oil & gas production. Treatment options include amine sweeteners, aeration (gas stripping), oxidation, membrane treatment, microbiological filtration and/or ion exchange.     Aeration and oxidation have recently emerged as common methods for treatment of produced water and flowback - each has its unique challenges.

Historically, aeration has been most commonly applied using either tray, packed tower, diffused air or spray-nozzle methods. However, the equilibrium of sulfide species in water (between H2S and HS-) is highly dependent upon pH.  As such, water must normally be treated with acid to lower the pH in order to increase the amount of H2S available for gas stripping.  Stripping gas can be either incinerated or re-processed within the sour gas recovery stream to recover valuable energy content.

Encana's award-winning d-70-K Debolt Water Treatment Plant utilizes a 5-stage aeration scheme employed HCl injection, inlet separator, stripping tower, degassing tank and scavenger polish (acrolein).  The end-product is suitable for hydraulic fracturing reuse: the acrolein scavenger creates a soluble, irreversible liquid product with non-detectable levels of H2S.

More recently, producers have utilized oxidizers to handle flowback and produced water associated with tight oil and gas fracturing and production.  In particular, service providers have developed ozone, chlorine dioxide and hydrogen peroxide systems for deployment in the Marcellus and Eagleford plays.  Media-based solutions (potassium permanganate, filtration or ion exchange) are more susceptible to fouling, particularly when the sulfide species are "oil-wet" and require a more aggressive oxidizer to "break through" the hydrocarbon barrier.

Oxidizer-based systems require careful consideration of oxidizer supply-chain logistics, operational simplicity, energy-efficiency and OH&S needs of the end-user. We are currently working on new applications for both aeration and oxidizer solutions with an focus on driving down the overall cost of service to achieve a better balance between CAPEX, OPEX and environmental footprint.

Integrated Watershed Management for Peace River Basin

The Peace River Basin hosts a number of highly-productive tight oil and gas developments including the Montney formation in BC and Alberta.  Water Management Planning processes are underway including the Wapiti River Water Management Plan and the Mighty Peace Integrated Watershed Management Plan.  Both planning processes are collaborative, multi-stakeholder initiatives that will address critical issues including: environmental base flow; in-stream flow needs (IFN); water availability; water quality; First Nations needs and Treaty rights; and water licensing.

As with all river basins, one of the challenges within the Water Management Framework will be to understand the difference between licensed allocations and actual use. 

Within the Wapiti River Basin, annual allocations represent 63 million m3 of the 3 billion m3 of annual flow (2%). Of this amount, 13.5 million m3 is designated for consumptive use (cooling, irrigation) or losses.  In 2014, consumptive uses plus losses only totaled 2.3 million m3,   The difference can be attributed to a variety of reasons: reduced production by large users; conservation and efficiency initiatives; weather effects; and, measurement or reporting variability.

Our team has been heavily involved in the Bow River Water Management Plan and resultant framework for water license transfers.  We hope to apply our lessons-learned as we now assist in the watershed management planning process for the Peace and Wapiti in the months ahead.

Montney Tight Gas Fairway - Solving the Water Disposal Riddle

The Montney Tight Gas Fairway (MTGF)  exists in the same region as the tight gas deep basin for many other formations.  Disposal formations (that may be prolific producers to the east) become too tight within the MTGF.  Other candidates are limited to specific geologic anomalies – such as the Leduc reefs or Debolt faults.  Wells drilled into these formations outside of these anomalies are not productive enough.

Existing injection wells within the Montney Tight gas fairway are generally for pressure maintenance with marginal disposal capacity. While useful for secondary recovery, there are not economically viable without the benefit of oil recovery.  In many cases these secondary recovery schemes exist on geological sweet spots with higher porosity and permeability that are limited in aerial extent.

Within the Montney tight gas fairway there are simply none of the hugely prolific disposal wells found elsewhere.  Whereas there are single wells in the Edmonton/Ft. Saskatchewan area capable of taking > 100,000 m3/month, a prolific MTGF well might take only 10,000 m3 per month. Immediately east of the MTGF, a prolific well might take approximately 30,000 m3/ per month.  Compounding the problem of the low quality of many potential candidate formations is the fact that the Fairway exists along the edge of the deformation front. This means that the drilling depth to candidate formations can be significantly deeper. For example, a Leduc formation disposal well in the Kaybob area can be found at 2,600m depth and easily accept >25,000 m3 per month.  In the Kakwa/Gold Creek area in the MTGF, a Leduc well would be completed at >3600m depth and accommodate <20,000 m3 per month.

Finally, the Montney is sour across some of the fairway, particularly in the deepest parts of the basin on the Alberta side.  This complicates water disposal, as it either limits potential disposal formations or requires treatment to remove H2S.

These factors are driving up disposal costs to uneconomic levels. As such, our Water Hub designs are incorporating higher water reuse strategies, sour water sweetening/reuse and evaporator systems to reduce disposal volumes.  With careful planning and technology selection, we are driving down the cost of water disposal and improving economics.

K'nowbe Montney Disposal Cumulative.pdf (940.2KB)