Drilling waste finds new use

San Antonio  — Among the thousands of oil field trucks criss-crossing Texas: Trucks hauling solid waste from drilling pits to landfills.

But a Longview-based company has a way to turn that oil field trash into something useful — roads and new drilling pads.

Scott Environmental Services Inc. uses a process that stabilizes and solidifies solid drilling waste. It was initially developed for federal Superfund sites as a way to safely lock up contaminated soil.

“They were looking at processes that encapsulate the waste for thousands of years,” said Blake Scott, president of the company.

Every foot of earth drilled creates about 1.2 barrels of drilling waste, and about half of that is solid waste, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

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Those solids include mostly the bits of rock formations that have been drilled through, but there are also salts or metals such as barium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, silver and zinc.

And it all has to go somewhere, often a landfill.

Other times drilling waste is treated and buried on site, or if it’s not harmful, is spread across the ground and acts as a fertilizer.

David Burnett, a director and research coordinator at Texas A&M University’s Department of Petroleum Engineering, said the product has been tested by the university in West Texas for about four years, where it’s held up to traffic and severe weather patterns.

“We monitored to see if there was any dust or leaching,” Burnett said. “It was sterile. It was absolutely perfect.”

The process could be used to build new county roads that have been battered by oil and gas traffic, although it hasn’t been.

“We’ve never done any county roads,” Scott said. “We’ve done many, many pads and a tremendous amount of lease roads. The operator likes to reuse their waste because of the benefit they get out of it. Company A’s waste always stays on Company A’s leases. They maintain control of their waste.”

The companies also reduce the material they have to buy for ranch roads and pads, as well as eliminate costs of trucking and disposing of solid waste.

Scott has clients in Madisonville in Madison County, an area on the eastern end of the Eagle Ford formation that’s becoming known as the Eaglebine — where the Eagle Ford meets the Woodbine Sandstone.

It’s also active in East Texas, where drillers are working in the Haynesville Shale, in the Granite Wash in the Panhandle, and in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Utah.

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But it doesn’t have any South Texas clients yet.

Burnett said he hopes that operators in the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin in West Texas will take an interest in the idea of using drilling waste for new pads or roads as a way to reduce truck traffic and landfill use, as well as be more environmentally friendly because of the reduction in spill risk.

“If you want to be an accommodating neighbor, you try to reduce the activity,” Burnett said. “It’s the lifecycle costs. You’re having to pay for a landfill at some point. It’s a solution but it’s just not the cheapest. What everyone is looking for in the shale is the cheaper the better. We’d like them to look for ‘the better the better.’”

Scott said the pricing varies depending on how remote the location is, but is competitive with traditional disposal methods when the cost of building new roads and drilling pads is considered.