The long-term deal is among only a handful that have been announced in the US produced water space this year.
Earlier this month, Tallgrass Energy’s water division entered into a 10-year agreement with ECOVAP under which it will own and operate the company’s Evaporative Matrix technology with exclusive rights to use it in the oil & gas industry. The deal adds to Tallgrass’ portfolio an efficient and economical solution that is suitable across multiple basins. It may also be deployed in the municipal and mining sectors, two areas into which Tallgrass is considering diversification.
Tallgrass had been evaluating technologies in the produced water management space since its inception in 2012. A trial of the Evaporative Matrix last year at one of Tallgrass’ Powder River Basin assets yielded highly successful results, prompting the midstream company to act.
“There are hundreds of technologies out there that claim to be the black box and be able to pretty much do everything, but this was the one that we felt was unique,” Mark Ritchie, vice-president and general manager of Tallgrass Water, told WiO.
ECOVAP’s technology is essentially a matrix constructed with 2×2 or 2×3 panels. Because the panels are made from 100% high-density polyethylene, produced water constituents do not pose significant scaling or corrosion challenges. Low-power, high-volume pumps move water to the matrix top, where gravity takes over. By exposing a greater water surface area to air, the matrix enables water to evaporate up to 59 times faster than a conventional evaporation pond. Unevaporated water with concentrated constituents collects in a catchment.
“This wasn’t done in a lab; we actually bought a water disposal facility, got into the business and started experimenting with different technologies,” ECOVAP CEO Jason Mendenhall told WiO about how the technology was developed. “We eventually figured out that if you were going to inject any kind of power into the process, it would fail economically every time, so we sought a way to accelerate water evaporation without having to inject any power or chemicals.”
In addition to the operational simplicity and economics of the technology, Tallgrass was drawn to the flexibility and scalability of the systems. Mendenhall said that the matrix panels could be assembled in Lego-like fashion to achieve any shape, form or size according to specific project needs. The only real limiting factor on the treatment capacity of the matrix is available space. However, since the systems can be built in a wide variety of configurations near existing evaporation ponds or at the wellhead, that is hardly a concern.
“As the project demand and the volumes dictate, you can start removing some of these blocks and downsize the system, whereas some of the alternatives such as deep wells or evaporation ponds are kind of sunk costs and fixed assets,” Ritchie said.
So far, the technology has been deployed as an alternative to disposal via well injection or traditional evaporation in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Texas and California.
“In areas where we’ve seen optimal applications of these systems, they are substantially cheaper than […] long-distance trucking or small disposal volumes in expensive assets,” Ritchie asserted.
Tallgrass is currently evaluating the seven basins in which it operates to determine the best candidates for the use of Evaporative Matrices. Areas facing conventional disposal and logistics challenges – such as the Marcellus/Utica region or Powder River Basin – would likely be the most appropriate.
The midstream company is currently in talks with several operators regarding the roll-out of the matrices for their operations. Ritchie told WiO that Tallgrass aims to commence deployment in Q3 2020 under a scheme in which it would carry the capital costs while operators pay a fee based on volumes managed.
“The potential cost savings in this particularly tight market could be huge in some applications,” Ritchie said. “I encourage any potential clients to reach out and give us the same challenge that we gave ECOVAP a year ago, which was, ‘Prove to me that this works at my location and don’t charge me anything until it does.’”