By Jan Hester
The future of the oil and gas industry depends on its ability to effectively manage water resources. To advance water-related technology, in 2010 ConocoPhillips inaugurated its Global Water Sustainability Center (GWSC) at Doha’s Qatar Science and Technology Park. The global center of excellence is committed to developing solutions that help conserve Earth’s most valuable resource.
This year, GWSC celebrates 10 years of investigative problem-solving, educational outreach and research that advances the science around produced water treatment, seawater desalination and water reuse and recycling.
GWSC Manager Samer Adham joined ConocoPhillips in 2008 to shepherd the facility from concept to reality. Establishing the center presented unique challenges.
“It was ConocoPhillips’ first research center outside its Bartlesville, Okla. labs, and advanced water technology research was a new frontier for the company,” said Adham. “It was also located near a non-operated production asset, so we had to develop relationships within Qatar and demonstrate our value in order to gain access to operations.”
“GWSC has played a critical role in developing and maintaining our excellent relationships with stakeholders in Qatar,” said Chief Financial Officer Bill Bullock. “Throughout the business community, government institutions and universities, the center is valued for its specialized expertise, problem-solving approach and can-do attitude. It’s a great example of a small, talented and diverse team having an outsized impact.”
Qatargas support and solutions
GWSC cut its teeth providing support and testing for the startup of the Qatargas 3 liquefied natural gas megatrain and continues to provide specialized technical support to the company and local governmental organizations.
In 2010, Doha lacked the in country analytical capabilities necessary to support QatarGas 3 and 4. Samples had to be sent to labs outside the country, hampering progress.
“We engaged in investigative troubleshooting and daily analyses during the startup to ensure correct chemicals were being added for flow assurance,” said Principal Engineer Arnie Janson.
In one example, the cooling water used in the liquefaction process developed a mysterious black foam assumed to be hydrocarbon-based.
“Through engineering, we recreated the foam in our labs,” said Senior Engineer Joel Minier Matar. “Using analytical processes, we discovered exactly what was in the water: a biocide of inorganic salts, not hydrocarbons.”
Since 2012, Qatargas has designed and built industrial wastewater recycling plants for its Qatargas 2, 3 (partly owned by ConocoPhillips) and 4 facilities. GWSC provided process engineering support with respect to design and plant commissioning.
“In a synergy integration project, we evaluated the technical feasibility of diverting wastewater from other trains to the new water recycling plants to reduce costs. A comprehensive analysis showed that the project was feasible and integration is under review,” said Janson.
These successes culminated in GWSC’s reputation as a go-to resource for Qatargas.
“A key part of our legacy — and a component of the country’s national vision – is this transfer of technology to the Qataris in our office and at Qatargas,” said Janson. “Ten years ago, that expertise wasn’t here. Now ConocoPhillips has a brand.”
Supporting global business units
The GWSC team is currently working closely with ConocoPhillips’ Bartlesville labs to develop methods for chemical analysis at Ekofisk in the Norwegian Sea and Teesside in the U.K.
“We receive samples from Teesside and Ekofisk to monitor corrosion inhibitor residuals in the pipeline,” said Scientist Eman Al Shamari. “We also develop analytical methods for new corrosion inhibitor products. These projects demonstrate the value of GWSC’s state-of-the-art laboratories to ConocoPhillips’ business units around the world.”
GWSC also has supported ConocoPhillips’ Lower 48 and Surmont business units on ion exchange, a key process in water management. “We evaluated two new ion exchange resins, comparing them against existing products, and found that one was better than the one we were using,” Minier Matar said. “We qualified the better solution and delivered it to the operations team to consider in future facility upgrades.”
Of more than 15 water technologies evaluated by the GWSC team, two have been fully implemented: membrane bioreactors and reverse osmosis. Forward osmosis is currently being pilot tested.
“Membrane bioreactors, used to remove organics, are being installed at Qatargas to treat process water from natural gas trains,” said Engineer Dareen Dardor. “Once the organics are removed, the water goes to the reverse osmosis unit for desalination and is used as boiler feedwater.”
The forward osmosis pilot seeks to reduce the volume of water sent to injection wells. “We’re using high salinity brine from a thermal desalination plant and simple osmosis phenomena to reduce the volume of the low salinity process water sent to injection wells,” said Engineer Mashael Al-Maas.
GWSC also conducted a pilot test of membrane distillation for Doha’s municipal desalination plant. “We recovered enough water to provide drinking water for Qatar, but the process is not yet ready for full-scale implementation,” said Minier Matar.
The Qatar Foundation presented GWSC with an award for the evaluation of this innovative technology.
Global collaboration, Texas connection
Four projects are currently being co-funded by the Qatar National Research Fund.
“Pressure-retarded osmosis is being evaluated with Texas A&M Qatar and College Station, and the University of Technology in Sydney,” said Dardor. “This process can harness the osmotic energy of high salinity brines to produce electricity — green energy generation.”
The group also is testing new membranes for oil removal. “We are collaborating with Qatar University and the University of Houston to develop membranes for oil/water separation,” said Al-Maas. “Our role is comparing new membranes developed by the University of Houston with commercially available versions, providing them with guidance and advice.”
Supporting Qatar’s future
“Since its foundation, GWSC has supported Qatar’s sustainability goals through a range of educational programs and community initiatives,” said ConocoPhillips Qatar President Todd Creeger. “The group continues to expand its outreach by collaborating with Qatar’s universities and government entities. Their contribution is helping Qatari citizens better understand the critical need to conserve water resources.”
The cornerstone of GWSC’s education effort is the Water Visitor Center, where a series of interactive displays appeals to young and old.
Launching the center was Adham’s first project. “The center was a new concept for Doha and one of which we’re very proud.”
In 2019, upgrades to the Water Visitor Center added more hands-on, interactive displays and a section featuring innovation and technology.
“The new section gives us an opportunity to show students what we do, why we wanted to become engineers, and encourages students to consider a STEM education,” said Engineer Dareen Dardor.
GWSC also supports initiatives that engage the wider community. Since 2014 the team has participated in the annual Tarsheed carnival, sponsored by Kahramaa (Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation) to encourage energy efficiency. ConoTarsheed, a joint initiative, aims to raise awareness among Qatar residents of the importance of sustainability.
The team also participates in Qatar Sustainability Week, co-sponsored with the Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC) to disseminate information on the importance of conservation.
Supporting local universities
GWSC works with Doha-based universities on sustainability education projects and has sponsored more than 15 graduate students through various projects.
“We leverage our relationships and work collaboratively with Qatar University and Texas A&M by supporting graduate students conducting research technically related to GWSC’s mission,” Adham said. “We’re interested in their research outcomes, and they could be future employees.”
Looking to the future
Over the next five years, the GWSC team will increase its focus on unique flow assurance investigative analysis for Qatargas and ConocoPhillips operations.
“GWSC will remain a center of excellence for advanced technologies in oil and gas water management. Of course, there will be challenges as our industry’s focus on innovation grows,” Adham said. “We look forward to conducting more field qualifications with the goal of enhancing GWSC’s international exposure and affirming its high-tech brand.”