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Where is innovation needed?

PWS president Lisa Henthorne proposes the sector take a holistic approach to improving water management rather than strictly focusing on innovating treatment technology.

A few weeks back, I wrote about the new wave of research dollars authorized by the US Department of Energy for the Energy-Water Desalination Hub, part of which has been directed towards finding new solutions to treat high-salinity brines, recover value from produced water minerals and address the energy demands of desalinating high-salinity sources such as produced water. This investment in advanced produced water treatment is timely, and the opportunity has energized a lot of small companies and researchers at a time when the future is uncertain.

One certainty is that lower-cost, more effective produced water management – for all levels of separation – will improve our long-term value to the oil & gas industry. With that in mind, PWS recently ran an online poll to get readers’ opinions on where treatment innovation is needed. Though tertiary treatment took the lead at 40% of respondents, primary treatment followed closely behind at 33%.

While new, effective separation techniques will be useful, I encourage us to take a look at how municipal and industrial water companies see the future. They’re also facing clients with shrinking capital budgets and a need to outsource as much as possible, but they’re not just focused on improving the treatment steps. They see a future where automation and digital solutions can reduce operations & maintenance costs; where water, energy and operational efficiency-related ESG objectives are critical to their investors; and where emerging contaminants are prompting new regulation.

One of the best ways to prioritize innovation needs is to break down cost components into different buckets: equipment/technology, energy, labor, chemicals/consumables, disposal, transportation/transmission and waste handling. By looking at where we can have the most significant impact, we can craft solutions and bring the most value to our companies. While we’ve made significant strides in some of these areas over the past decade, some buckets have been bypassed. We also should consider that new regulations drive innovation needs more quickly than almost anything else, and many countries are moving towards stronger regulatory statutes.

My belief is that while our industry is unique, we’re facing similar challenges to the broader water industry. We need to look beyond “treatment and disposal” for the cost savings that will make us competitive in the marketplace and bring long-term value to our individual companies and the oil & gas industry overall.

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