Few natural resources are as essential in life as fresh water. We drink it, wash in it, grow food with it and use it in manufacturing. Demand for water is set to increase as the world’s population rises and economies around the world continue to develop.
For these reasons, we are taking steps to manage our use of water responsibly. This includes looking for ways to reuse and recycle this valuable resource.
Beneficial uses for produced water
At our QGC project in Australia, we have invested in water treatment facilities to turn produced water into a resource that can be used by the local community.
QGC produces LNG from natural gas in the water-scarce region of the Surat Basin in Queensland. Water is produced as a natural by-product during the extraction of gas, but it is salty, and unfit to drink or use on crops.
QGC goes beyond compliance and supplies high quality treated water to local farmers and towns.
Two water plants built around the same time as the gas production infrastructure treat about 97% of the produced water, turning it from unusable and environmentally-unsuitable saline water into high quality, treated water suitable for use by local farmers and irrigators, as well as industry and town water suppliers.
The plants have been operational since 2014 and their combined average treated water output in 2017 was 54 mega litres a day – or about 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The project is beneficial for business, communities and the environment: for QGC it means there are guaranteed outlets for the produced water. For the local farmers and irrigators, it means access to a secure supply of clean water in an area naturally prone to drought. And for the environment, it reduces pressure to irrigate from river systems meaning the local ecosystems are protected.
“This is water that would otherwise not be available to local farmers and towns,” says Ben Power, Environment Manager for Shell Australia. “It provides farmers and irrigators the ability to plant winter crops in the region, knowing there will be water available for irrigation when rainfall and river water allocations are limited. And in providing the water, we are also helping to take pressure off environmental flows by supplementing the region’s water supply schemes.”
QGC’s water-recycling efforts was named Industrial Water Project of the Year at the 2016 Global Water Awards, which recognises the most important achievements in the water industry globally.
Waste water as an alternative to fresh water
Other operations use waste water as an alternative to fresh water, so that more local resources are available for neighbouring communities.
In Durban, South Africa, for example, our joint venture refinery, SAPREF, uses water recycled from households to replace about a third of the refinery’s fresh water used for process cooling and to make steam.
Elsewhere, in an unusual arrangement with the City of Dawson Creek in Canada, we partnered with the city’s council to open a water plant that treats municipal waste water, which would otherwise be discharged to a local river. Instead it is treated to a standard where it can be used both by our Groundbirch natural gas venture and the community.
Groundbirch recycles approximately 98% of its water. Most of the balance is now taken from the plant, virtually eliminating our need to draw on fresh water for our operations in the area. Dawson Creek is also able to use the treated water for its own needs, like cleaning roads or keeping public parks green.