At a recent event held by the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, new tech-minded firms previewed some of the exciting new devices and techniques that will be used to clean, monitor, and assess the oil and natural gas fields of the future. In an industry in which companies have begun investigating ways to control methane gas emissions, reduce carbon footprints, and eliminate adverse environmental impacts, these technologies will be crucial. One Colorado company, FLIR Systems Inc., has already developed a thermal imaging leak detector to help companies manage methane control systems, but the next wave of technology promises to be even more revolutionary.
One company, Alert Plus, hopes to create gas monitors that communicate electronically and provide ways to automatically shut down the system in case of an emergency. Others are focused on bringing solar energy to the oil and gas industry. Solar Multiple, for example, has begun using solar power to create the thermal energy needed to evaporate the water found in drilling pits. Perhaps most exciting is the plan to bring drones to oil fields, an idea pioneered by Agribotix, a company founded originally to use drones in the agriculture industry. With drones bedecked in sensors and cameras, oil and gas experts can quickly and easily check oil pipeline safety and the conditions in faraway fields, allowing for greater control and safety at a lower cost.
Many oil and natural gas deposits are trapped in environments alongside water, and wells that are constructed to exploit these resources require techniques to handle the wastewater, also known as “saltwater,” “oilfield brine,” and “produced water,” that the extraction process brings up to the surface. Generally, the resources are mixed with the water and must be extracted. The remaining saltwater has to be carefully managed, and the Environmental Protection Agency places strict limits on its disposal. While companies are increasingly turning to injection wells, where the saltwater is recycled for use in extracting further natural gas or oil through hydraulic fracturing, the management of these fluids still requires care, and saltwater disposal wells have been designed specifically to contain them.
Generally, the goal of a saltwater disposal well is to ensure that the saltwater never interacts with the groundwater or the outside environment. In one state, Texas, the requirement for these kinds of wells states that three layers must be used: surface casing, production casing, and protection casing. The outermost layer, the surface casing, is steel and concrete that starts at the surface and descends all the way to the deepest groundwater layer. Next, the production casing takes the form of a pipe cemented to the wellbore, followed by the protection layer, with its injection tubing string. These components bring the water underground, where it remains safely stored in underground geologic formations.