From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):
The sun shines, the temperature is still unaware of a looming arctic freeze and Josh Patterson chats happily in his new truck as it lumbers down a maze of Weld County roads headed northeast from High Sierra Water Services offices in west Greeley. Heading toward his company’s latest accomplishment, his truck turns, moves ahead and turns a few more times before we’re in open country of blue skies and golden plains. He tears open his breakfast burrito, and manages to swallow a few bites as he answers questions about C7, High Sierra Water Services’ latest commercial water recycling facility about 10 miles southwest of Briggsdale.
This one is unique in that it is the first water recycling facility in Colorado that will transport water via pipeline. As of early December, the planned four miles of pipeline remain to be set to connect it to Noble Energy’s central processing facility — a centralized area that will become one of the global oil and gas company’s hubs. The facility will take in oil, natural gas, and water piped in from the wellhead, separate it all on one 40-acre space, recycle the water, and pipe out the oil and natural gas to the markets. As a unit, it will eliminate hundreds of truck miles spent transporting from one place to another. Noble plans to build a few more in the field to centralize its operations.
“This is the big brother to C6,” says Patterson, director of operations for High Sierra Water, of the nine-acre water recycling and injection facility called C7.
High Sierra is one of a few companies in the Wattenberg Field that recycles used production water from wells, a process that Patterson designed, and which he continues to upgrade. High Sierra’s C6 facility, unveiled publicly last year west of Platteville, is High Sierra’s other recycling facility in the Wattenberg where produced water can be recycled or injected into underground wells. The company also has a recycling facility in Wyoming.
Recycling water has been on the rise in recent months as companies strive to become more environmentally friendly — Noble Energy, especially, with it is Wells Ranch central processing facility, and Anadarko Petroleum, are both big customers of High Sierra.
We stop outside the sprawling Wells Ranch Central Processing facility to view the route of the four miles of pipeline to bring water in and out of the facility for Noble, which will be the chief customer at C7.
“C7 was built in concert with C6, but it sat idle for a year,” Patterson explains. “The demand essentially wasn’t there. It took time to prove up the water quality to frac-fluid compatibility. A lot of water isn’t compatible with gel-frac chemistry. It requires a certain water quality. So we’re taking treated water and making sure it doesn’t ruin a $7 million frac job.”
The trench for the last bit of pipeline is already dug in some spots, and workers work to fuse the pipes together along the pipeline’s route as we travel those four miles north. The pipeline typically sits about 4 feet underground, depending on the frost line.
“There are lot of rolling hills and we want to lay the pipe out as flat as possible,” Patterson said. “We don’t do it by gravity. We have a medium pressure pipeline set at 120 psi.”
At Weld County roads 74 and 69, we stop finally at High Sierra, where a backhoe is digging the trench that will feed into the recycling plant. To the eastern side of the site, workers are on a rig, drilling a directional well to dispose of production water that doesn’t get recycled. It is the facility’s second injection well.
On the outside, it looks as if it’s one massive storage facility, with several tank batteries, and an open concrete pad where the company plans to place more for storage of both produced and recycled water.
The company started operations with a 2,000-barrel sale on Thanksgiving Day. It has the capacity to process 15,000 barrels a day.
“Now, we can store 6,000 barrels for incoming water, and 3,000 barrels for finished water,” Patterson said. Noble will have the capacity to store 80,000 barrels (enough for about one frack job) at the central processing facility, all piped in from High Sierra.
“It’ll get to capacity and based on my projections, it will require an expansion,” Patterson said of C7’s capabilities. “With the drilling plans and projected water use (in the field), by 2018, we’ll need another facility or an expansion to that facility.”
To date, C8, a new injection facility with planned recycling capabilities, has been built in Grover, and officials are mulling plans for future expansion.
We walk inside to don hard hats and step into the belly of the beast. Actually, the big blue beast, an injection pump, sits in the middle pumping production water downhole into the plant’s first injection well, arguably the loudest piece of equipment in the metal building with concrete flooring. Across the room, a door leads to the recycling facility, where tanks and equipment are placed strategically and carefully in tight quarters, leaving just enough room for a body to roam through and maybe clean and check tanks. Each massive tank inside has a function in the four-step process that takes four hours from production wastewater to recycled product. The process starts by removing the suspended solids from the water, such as cuttings from the wells. Step two is dissolving other solids; step three is polishing, and step four is filtration. It’s a process that Patterson has honed in his time at High Sierra, and in which he takes enormous pride. With each step, or system design, he tries to improve on the process.
The facility has eight employees who work on the disposal side and nine for the recycling side; the process is 24/7, and the facility is open 15 hours a day.
After about 30 minutes, and Patterson disappearing to discuss a site production issue with staff, we’re back in the truck en route to Greeley.
His burrito barely touched, Patterson swigs from a bottle of water nabbed for the trip, and he talks about the future needs of recycled water.
While not every company in the field is going with recycled water, Patterson said more inquires are coming in all the time. It’s a rather expensive process, and volume dictates the cost. With a long-term contract with Noble, dealing in millions of gallons of water, the costs make it on par with trucking costs. Some companies have experimented with recycling water at the wellhead — Patterson himself has even tried it. But the amount of power needed to recycle water, makes the paltry amount coming out of wells cost-prohibitive, Patterson said.
“It’s just not economic. Just the power required to run a treatment system brings the costs way up,” Patterson said. “A lot of companies have put together treatment technology. But there’s just not enough water. If you’re on a seven-well pad, with a seven-well pad next door, it could be economic. But it goes back to the fixed costs (which don’t fluctuate).”
Recycling water is not the only answer in this growing field, which produces roughly 85,000 barrels of water a day, but it is growing. Between C6 and C7, High Sierra has the capacity to recycle 25,000 barrels a day. The rest must be put into injection wells. Barring additional storage capacity for a growing need for recycled water, it must go somewhere.
“We’re still a drop in the bucket compared to the water that could be utilized,” Patterson said.
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