Biological pretreatment of produced water for reuse applications
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Co-produced water from the oil and gas industry represents a significant waste stream in the United States. Produced water is characterized by high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS), dissolved organics and oil and grease. Among the wide variety of organics present in the water, the concentration of hazardous substances such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) can reach 600 mg/L and the concentration of non-hazardous carboxylate can be as high as 10,000 mg/L (API, 2002). Regulations governing the disposal of produced water are tightening and the interest in reusing treated produced water is increasing in the United States particularly in regions with scarce water supplies. In order to reuse produced water, removal of both the inorganic dissolved solids and hazardous organics such as BTEX may be necessary. The main goal of this research was to investigate the feasibility of using a combined physicochemical/biological treatment system to remove the organic constituents present in saline produced water. In order to meet this objective, two separate biological treatment techniques were investigated: a vapor phase biofilter (VPB) to treat the regeneration off-gas from an upstream surfactant-modified zeolite (SMZ) adsorption system and a membrane bioreactor (MBR) to treat the carboxylate and BTEX constituents that penetrate an upstream SMZ system. Each of the biological pretreatment systems was investigated first in the laboratory treating synthetic produced water and then in the field coupled to an SMZ adsorption system treating produced water. Both of the biological treatment systems were capable of removing the BTEX constituents both in the laboratory and in the field over a range of operating conditions. For the VPB, separation of the BTEX constituents from the saline aqueous phase yielded high removal efficiencies. However, carboxylates remained in the aqueous phase and were not removed in the combined VPB/SMZ system. In contrast, the MBR was capable of directly treating the saline produced water and simultaneously removing the BTEX and carboxylate constituents. The major challenge of the MBR system was controlling membrane fouling, particularly when the system was treating produced water under field conditions.