In its third and final round of competition for projects that can help
sustain natural gas production from "stripper" wells, the U.S.
Department of Energy has selected a proposal to test a coal-based filtering
material that could sharply reduce the costs of disposing of waste water
from these low-volume wells.
|The Rosebud SynCoal® demonstration
plant near Colstrip, Montana, was built in DOE's Clean Coal Technology
Program. Its upgraded coal product, originally intended as a high
quality fuel for power plants, may also be a low cost filter material
for oil and gas well waste water.
The Energy Department plans to award $132,000 to Western SynCoal LLC
of Billings, Montana. The company will combine the federal funding with
$28,000 of its own money to develop a promising spinoff application for
an enhanced coal-based product it developed in the government's Clean
Coal Technology Program.
The product, called SynCoal®, is a high-quality, low-moisture
coal material made by heating and physically cleaning low-rank subbituminous
coal. Originally intended as a low-sulfur fuel for power plants, the material
has characteristics that researchers believe will make it ideal for filtering
contaminated waste water. Its affinity for capturing hydrocarbon and other
impurities makes it similar to activated carbon, but it is much less expensive.
The product is so economical that, if successful, it could reduce water
disposal costs from low volume gas wells by 70 percent. Such a dramatic
cost reduction would prolong the economical lifetimes of thousands of
stripper gas wells, allowing gas to continue flowing that might otherwise
be shut in.
Moreover, the water produced by the SynCoal® filtering
process is clean enough for agricultural use. This could be especially
beneficial in Northwestern states where clean water is at a premium, and
a significant amount of natural gas production is carried out.
Throughout the lower-48 states, more than half of all onshore gas wells
are classified as low-volume stripper wells. On average, each of the more
than 191,000 U.S. wells in this category produces about 16,000 cubic feet
of natural gas per day. Together the wells account for about eight percent
of U.S. gas production, but their numbers are growing. In the last seven
years, some 30,000 gas wells have been reclassified as stripper wells.
As their production declines, many are being plugged and abandoned.
The cost of waste water disposal is a major factor in the economic "tightrope"
that many of these well's operators must walk.
As the flow of gas declines, the influx of water into these wells increases.
Gas producers often must truck the waste water to disposal wells that
can be several miles from the production site. Excluding trucking costs,
waste water disposal can cost as much as $2 per barrel, costs that must
be absorbed in the overall economics of a gas field.
Western SynCoal's novel filtering system will be tested at an existing
gas production facility owned and operated by NARCo of Denver, CO. NARCo
owns and operates about 450 stripper gas wells in the Denver-Julesburg
basin in Colorado. Both companies are in the Energy Supply Division of
the Montana Power Company in Butte, MT.
Subcontractors are Western Energy Company, Colstrip, MT; Environmental
Management Systems, Butte, MT; Chemical Applications and Engineering Inc.,
Lyons, Co; and HSB Services, Sheridan, WY.
Western SynCoal's Clean Coal Technology project was selected in 1988
by the Energy Department as one of a series of joint government-industry
ventures to demonstrate advanced ways to use the nation's abundant coal
resources more cleanly and economically. In 1992 the company completed
construction on a processing plant in Colstrip, Montana, to convert high-moisture,
low-rank coals into the high-value SynCoal® product. To
date, more than 1.5 million tons of SynCoal® has been produced
by the plant, which is 1/10th commercial scale. Much of the product is
being fed to Montana Power's Colstrip No. 2 power plant.
In addition to its new potential use for waste water filtering, SynCoal®
also can be used to improve cement and lime production.
The new project will be managed by the Energy Department's National Energy
Technology Laboratory which oversees a broad spectrum of the department's
energy and environmental programs, including its efforts in natural gas
technology. Previously, as part of its program to prevent the premature
abandonment of gas stripper wells, the laboratory selected proposals in
September 1999 to develop low-cost software programs for gas fields. In
March 2000, the laboratory chose a second set of projects to apply advanced
computer and remote gas well monitoring technologies to lower operating
DOE Stripper Well Round Three Selections - Public
Western SynCoal LLC
Western SynCoal LLC proposes to study, test, and evaluate the concept
of removing stripper gas well produced water impurities using a unique
filter medium. The concept uses a SynCoal® based filtering
system to produce agricultural quality water as an inexpensive and productive
alternative to current produced water disposal methods.
The proposed project will define the economic feasibility of using a
SynCoal® based filtration system to remove hydrocarbons
and dissolved metal salts from stripper gas well produced waters. Current
stripper gas well operations typically collect this water and dispose
of it through deep well injection or large surface evaporation facilities.
These disposal processes require collection and storage at each well location
and are subject to significant transportation costs to the disposal facility
while tying up significant land areas or subsurface aquifers. The water
disposed of in this manner remains contaminated and is unavailable for
SynCoal® is a beneficiated coal product produced by Western
SynCoal LLC at their Advanced Coal Conversion Process facility located
in Colstrip, Montana. The SynCoal® process produces a high
calorific value, low ash, low moisture, and low sulfur synthetic coal
used for electric power generating plant supplemental fuel, as a "green"
casting sand additive, and as a cement plant primary fuel. SynCoal has
active surface properties which give it an affinity to absorb/adsorb hydrocarbon
materials similar to activated carbon, but is much less expensive.
The objectives of the proposed work are as follows:
- Remediate stripper gas well produced water by reducing hydrocarbon
and metal salt content in the water to agricultural use standards and,
- Identify technology combination requirements to make productive water
resource from produced waters, and
- Reduce stripper gas well operating costs by mitigating water transportation
and disposal costs.
The filtering system will be tested at an existing gas production facility
with minimal modification costs. Three different SynCoal®
filtration column designs will be investigated under this proposal. The
data generated from the tests will be evaluated to determine SynCoal®
filtration column effectiveness, and whether the technology can be employed
separately or requires integration into another remediation design. At
specified time intervals, produced well water and the treated water shall
be sampled and analyzed for the following: pH, Eh, suspended solids, total
dissolved solids (TDS), and total hydrocarbons (THC).
Western SynCoal LLC, with the cooperation of its sister company, North
American Resources Company (NARCo), is the cost sharing participants for
this proposal. Western SynCoal, located in Billings, Montana, is the proposer
and project manager. NARCo, located in Denver, Colorado, owns and operates
the approximately 450 stripper gas wells located in the Denver-Julesburg
(D-J) basin of Colorado. Both companies are in the Energy Supply Division
of the Montana Power Company, located in Butte, Montana.
Subcontractors for the proposal are the Western Energy Company of Coalstrip,
Montana, Environmental Management Systems (EMS) of Butte, Montana, Chemical
Applications and Engineering, Inc., (CAE) of Lyons, Colorado, and HSB
Services of Sheridan, Wyoming.