Editor’s Comment: Sustainable use of water in downstream facilities

Effective and sustainable running of the water cycle is critical to reliable operations of downstream facilities

Martin Menachery is editor of Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.
Martin Menachery is editor of Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.

The UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on 25 September 2015. The outcome of this was the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aspiring to address some of the world’s urgent economic, social and environmental challenges. The oil and gas industry’s operations have both positive and negative impact on the agenda of SDGs.

On the positive side, the industry is a major contributor to sustainable development in many ways. For example, the industry invests in the long-term social and economic development of communities in which it operates; provides access to energy, catalysing economic activity and social development; and generates large number of jobs. On the negative side, the industry’s environmental footprint on climate change and biodiversity is a serious concern.

To explain how the industry’s operations can impact the agenda of SDGs, let us look at SDG 6, which promotes ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The oil and gas industry consumes large amounts of water. Exploration, production and refining of oil and gas accounts for about 1% of global freshwater withdrawals. Water is an integral element in the operations in the entire oil and gas value chain and, as a result, its activities may impact local water resources. And, if not managed properly, the industry’s operations can also compromise the quality of water.

In its entire value chain, the oil and gas industry uses water as a raw material in a multitude of ways. While considering particularly the refining and petrochemicals sector of the industry, it is facing stringent environmental regulations. Effective and sustainable running of the water cycle is critical to reliable operations of downstream facilities.

The downstream industry has a significant role to play in protecting the quality of water in the areas where its plants operate. 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. An updated water management plan could considerably increase the environmental performance and economic efficiency of the downstream complexes.

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