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GCA’s Permian ambitions die slowly

Many refineries and petrochemical plants in the Houston area have no wastewater treatment plant. Instead, they pump their wastewater to a centralized plant…

Many refineries and petrochemical plants in the Houston area have no wastewater treatment plant. Instead, they pump their wastewater to a centralized plant. Gulf Coast Waste Authority (GCA) owns and operates these plants. The Texas legislature created GCA in 1969 to spur industrial development. For 44 years they have operated three treatment facilities in the area. Total capacity is over 90 million gallons/day (2.1 million BBls/day).

In the early ‘90s, an employee of a GCA petrochemical customer transferred to a sister plant in Odessa. The plant had wastewater issues, as did other plants in the area. The transferred employee talked to his superiors about the simplicity of GCA. As it happened, GCA had been given the authority to build or buy wastewater plants statewide.

They bought an abandoned municipal plant and converted it into one that could handle the industrial wastewaters. In 1997 they commenced operations. Today they discharge about 2.5 MGD and sell the lion’s share of that to a major Permian operator for $5/1000 ($0.21/Bbl).

In 2014 GCA expanding its scope in the Permian, specifically in Ector and Midland counties. It applied for a grant offered by the Bureau of Reclamation under Title VI water reclamation and reuse. In the grant request they mentioned the benefits of replacing trucks with pipelines. They and scattered treatment with a large centralized treatment and storage facility. They got the grant and performed the study over the next two years.

The feasibility study submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation in 2016 omitted the grand visions. There were no pipe networks and centralized treatment. Instead, there was a treatment system next to a saltwater disposal well. The oil field had proceeded in that direction on its own. The selected option proposed by GCA looked very much like what is happening in the Permian today.

So the project envisioned by GCA lies dormant. There is no driver to do what is already being done. Gordon Pederson, the CTO for GCA, says it is all for the best. “As long as the oil companies are recycling their produced water, and saving fresh water resources, I’m happy.”

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