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Petro Waste Environmental

The Opportunities that Ramped-up Drilling will Bring to Solid Waste Management

The Permian Basin is a hotspot in the gas and oil industry, providing solid waste disposal companies with new opportunities.

San Antonio-based Petro Waste Environmental recently opened its second non-hazardous oil and gas waste landfill in Texas along the Permian Basin. The Orla landfill and the newest one in Howard County each take in 500 to 1,000 cubic yards of non-hazardous oil and gas waste per day. The company plans to build two more facilities in the region before the end of this year, according to George Wommack, CEO of Petro Waste.

The Permian Basin is a hotspot in the gas and oil industry, providing solid waste disposal companies with new opportunities. WoodMac Mackenzie Ltd. forecasts that production in this one region, extending from Odessa, Texas, to Pecos, Texas, and into New Mexico, will reach more than 5 million barrels a day in 2025.

“Landfills in the Permian Basin are building cells quickly,” says Adam Mehevec, senior project manager at Pittsburgh-based Civil & Environmental Consultants. “A brand new one in Mentone, Texas, owned by Republic Services, is filling up fast. And Republic is beginning to expand in that market.”

Most of the area’s activity appears to be between Pecos and Orla, Texas. Mehevec projects if oil and gas prices return to levels prior to 2014, the number of disposal facilities along the entire Permian Basin will mushroom. This will bring opportunities not only for disposal companies but for processors and recyclers as well, driven by demand for services like transportation, separation of materials and disposal of liquids and solids.

Petro Waste’s two new Texas facilities bring the existing number of similar, permitted commercial sites in the region to six.

The main players are R360 Environmental Solutions, a subsidiary of Waste Connections; Tervita, a subsidiary of Republic Services; and Republic Services.

These landfills are set up to accept exploration and production (E&P) waste, primarily from drilling and production operations. Materials may include oil-based mud, water-based mud, oil-based drill cuttings, water-based drill cuttings and contaminated soil.

Much of this waste was previously buried onsite at the drilling location in a permit-by-rule reserve pit. 

“As new facilities such as ours open closer to drilling activity, the cost to dispose of these materials at a commercial facility reduces,” says Wommack. “This change is helping many oil and gas operators … forego the environmental liability of burying onsite by hauling their waste to a commercial facility.”

Both the Orla and Howard County landfills consist of about 8-acre, triple-lined disposal cells that are approximately 30 feet deep. They also have truck washout facilities, processing areas and solids control equipment systems to effectively and safely manage E&P waste.

Pennsylvania is also seeing a robust market, with a fair amount of activity in West Virginia and Ohio, too. Pennsylvania and West Virginia’s markets are driven by Marcellus shale. In Ohio, it’s Utica shale.

In Pennsylvania, there are about 50 permitted facilities, about 12 of which take E&P waste.

“These landfills are generally in regions with the heaviest production. And [E&P] is a substantial portion of their waste,” says Eric Chiado, vice president of Civil & Environmental Consultants.

In 2015, 850,000 tons of E&P was disposed of in Pennsylvania landfills. In 2016, that number was about 300,000 tons. The variation is due to market fluctuations.

“It’s a function of the number of wells drilled at one time, which is tied to the cost of natural gas and ability to get it to market and to the industry being able to build [the amount of needed] pipeline,” says Chiado.

There has been an increase in horizontal drilling through shale and Utica formations. The method allows easier access to more oil. It also generates a lot of drill cuttings and other wastes that typically must be disposed of in a permitted municipal or residual solid waste facility. Horizontal drilling is big in both Pennsylvania and the nearby region as well as in the Permian Basin.

The American Petroleum Institute estimates that about 1.21 barrels of drilling waste are generated for every foot drilled in the U.S. Nearly 50 percent of it is solid waste. The accumulated volume of solid drilling waste generated yearly is approximately 139,961,305 barrels. But some waste companies are now taking in both these solid wastes and liquid to maximize on E&P.

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