How this facility in central Alberta breathes new life into waste oil
Among the thousands of oil facilities that dot Brazeau County, one stands out from the rest.
Instead of producing, compressing or pumping fuel, Recover Energy Services Inc. recycles oil from drilling cuttings.
The Company’s facility is located just outside of Lodgepole, approximately 170 kilometers southwest of Edmonton.
“I’m pretty proud of what our team has accomplished here,” said CEO Stan Ross.
When drilling a new oil well, sometimes thousands of feet deep, companies use a drilling fluid, such as an oil-based mud. This is to lubricate the bit and clear boulders and dirt out of the way.
It’s all in the mud
This is not the type of mud typically found in a farmer’s fields. It is a mixture of oil, brine, emulsifiers, wetting agents, clay, lime and other chemicals.
“It’s like a bartender,” said Reg Patterson, president of Barron Base Oil Corporation. The company produces oil-based mud.
“You can’t drill a well without some kind of liquid,” he said.
In most cases, drill debris — which resembles wet concrete — is mixed with sawdust, which can double the amount. The waste is then sent to a Class II landfill where it takes years to decompose.
According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, there were almost 1,800 new oil wells in Alberta in 2021. Each new well can produce 17 trucks of waste, or about 500 tons, Ross said.
Recover Energy has been taking drill cuttings and extracting a base oil from them since November 2021. Manufacturers like Barron Base Oil Corporation use this base oil to make more mud that can be used to drill for more oil.
“There is no limitless supply of base oils,” Patterson said. “So having a locally produced product from Alberta is definitely beneficial for everyone,”
Restore energy after extraction. dries what is left and sends it to landfill as it still contains some contaminants such as residual chlorides.
Overall, however, a much smaller amount is still being sent to landfill, Ross said.
In theory, with more refining, the base oil could be turned into diesel fuel, Ross said.
To obtain the base oil, Recover Energy uses a solvent called hexane, a compound typically used to extract vegetable oils like canola.
The company also recovers and reuses the hexane.
Reducing GHG emissions
In one year, Recover Energy has accepted approximately 200 shipments of waste and produced over 40,000 barrels of base oil. By doing this, Ross said, the company has avoided up to 68,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions because less waste goes to landfill.
That’s the equivalent of taking about 14,000 cars off the road for a year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Gurpreet Lail, CEO of Enserva, the national trade association representing energy services and utilities.
This new technology, she said, could be a game changer.
“There’s a ton of innovation happening right now.”
While there are other technologies, like thermal, that process drill cuttings, Ross said none are as environmentally friendly as Recover Energy.
“Our carbon footprint is extremely low for what we achieve.”
Recover Energy has identified more than 20 additional locations where it could expand across North America.
In addition, the company accepts the drill cuttings free of charge and makes its profit from the sale of the base oil.
In 2021, Brazeau County launched the Western Economic Corridor initiative to diversify its economy.
Though the area has about 10,000 oil and gas assets, it’s trying to attract cleaner technologies.
“One man’s scraps can be another man’s gold,” District Commissioner Bart Guyon said. “We’re seeing other companies taking a look at how we can help make the oil barrel greener.”
Part of that appeal is the reduction in cost.
Since 2015, the county has reduced taxes by 30 percent. If residents and businesses pay by the end of June, they will be eligible for an additional 30 percent local tax cut.
“People run here to pay their taxes,” Guyon said.
Other green projects in the country include a floating wetland that helps clean up sewage and a company trying to find easier ways to send crude oil through pipelines.
“Oil and gas aren’t going anywhere, but the internal combustion engine obviously is,” said Minister for Labour, Economy and Northern Development Brian Jean during a tour of the county’s facilities in mid-February.
“We’re an energy superpower here in Alberta and we need to make sure we’re at the forefront of all the technologies needed to take the next step.”