Editor's Comment: Water management in the downstream business

Proper management of the process water and wastewater is an important element in the successful operation of a downstream industry unit. The method of treatment of the wastewater depends on many factors – the quality of the crude oil, the process involved in treating the oil, the end applications of the by-products, etc.

Martin Menachery, editor, Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.
Martin Menachery, editor, Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.

An updated water management plan could considerably increase the environmental performance and economic efficiency of the downstream complexes, making those more market competitive, due to the importance of water in the refinery and petrochemical unit operations.

As mentioned by the Knowledge Partner of this Special Report – ACCIONA – in pages 34-35, petrochemical industry is amongst the major consumers of processed, or ‘make-up’ water, especially for cooling systems, stripping, fractionation, and desalting. Additionally, the treatment and refining of fossil fuels generates large quantities of wastewater that varies widely, depending on the type of crude oil, composition of condensate and treatment processes. As an example, the average refinery requires 2.5 gallons of water for every gallon of crude oil processed.

According to the above-mentioned column, as environmental regulations for wastewater disposal are getting stricter and fresh water resources are becoming increasingly limited, the industry requires more efficient management and reuse of this wastewater. The design and operation of modern refinery wastewater treatment is challenging and is driven by the latest technology.

Where treating the discharges generated by the refining and petrochemical sector is concerned, the wastewater can be re-used once it has been treated, which therefore enables water resources to be preserved.

Many environmental regulations over the recent years related to petroleum product quality have resulted in re-configuration of refining operations and the addition of energy intensive units, which have added a significant need for water to be diverted from various sources. Petroleum refineries rely on clean water sources for a variety of processes, from crude oil desalting to hydroprocessing units and cooling towers. The oil and gas industry consumes large amounts of water and also produces large amounts of water due to the extraction of oil and gas. The oil and gas companies, to meet their specific requirements, rely on water treatment specialists in order to guarantee production continuity, and to comply with increasingly strict environmental standards.

Another important point is that based on the feedstock quality, there is a need for use of certain technologies that are more water intensive. Despite these additional requirements, the downstream industry in the Middle East has made major achievements in water use efficiency, thanks to the innovative water management solutions available for the sector.

As elaborated in the Market Focus (pages 32-33) section of this Special Report, the water and waste water industry is faced with the challenge of adapting its systems to ongoing demographic, structural and climate change. More and more consumers, both private and industrial, are concentrated in densely populated urban areas. The result is greater demand for water and higher effluent volumes. In response, the demands placed on water quality are becoming continually more stringent.

As explained in the report, sustainable water and waste water management depends on the existence of a circular water management system. Both structurally and in the IT domain, the industrial and municipal demand and (waste) water flows must be interlinked. This creates an opportunity to exploit synergies in many areas, which can enhance the efficiency and quality of water conditioning and effluent treatment.

The refining and petrochemical manufacturing industry has a significant role to play in protecting the quality of water in the areas where its plants operate. These plants are faced with demanding environmental management challenges and regulations.

Both water quality and quantity are becoming a global environmental concern and water is a finite resource. From multiple users, a huge majority of wastewater flows back into the environment untreated, where it may cause environmental damage. By efficient use of water recycling and re-use strategies, as well as treatment options, this can be combatted. 

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