Colombia calls on Texas A&M Engineering, TEEX to help clean up contaminated water

The Republic of Colombia is interested in a technology developed by Texas A&M Engineering that could clean contaminated water recovered from drilling and production operations. Colombian officials are also interested in training provided by the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) for the technicians, inspectors and engineers that would use the technology.

Group photo of officialsKeith McLeroy of TEEX’s Infrastructure Training & Safety Institute (ITSI) accompanied David Burnett of Texas A&M’sGlobal Petroleum Research Institute (GPRI) on a recent trip to Neiva, Colombia, to discuss the Texas A&M technology and the training TEEX could provide. They met with officials from the national oil company,EcopetrolUniversidad Surcolumbiana and the National Authorities of Environmental Licenses (ANLA) of the Environment and Sustainable Development Office of Colombia. The officials wanted to learn more about the membrane filtration technology developed by Burnett and Carl Vavra of the Food Protein R&D Center Separation Sciences Laboratory, which is part of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES).

Following the meeting, ANLA indicated that the Colombian government planned to join the Environmentally Friendly Drilling (EFD) program and would work with GPRI and TEEX with the “intent of reducing significantly the environmental impact.” Further, ANLA officials said the goal of becoming active members of the EFD was so “efforts may be joined for the improvement of the technologies that are utilized in the processes of perforation and production of hydrocarbons.”

Burnett said Colombia is becoming more environmentally responsive, and could become a showcase of the new technology for a global audience. Colombian officials have indicated they want to hold an international workshop demonstrating their technological advances in Colombian oil and gas production fields. Texas A&M’s partner in the EFD program, the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), is working to get an international cooperative agreement in place to promote all forms of low-impact drilling technology throughout South America.

The immediate goal of an Texas A&M-Colombia venture is to prevent contaminated water from going into the public water supply, Burnett said. Instead, the water could be treated to make it available for sustainable agriculture, he added. Officials are interested in working with TEEX on methods for testing and operating water facilities and setting up labs to analyze treated water. McLeroy previously developed a lab protocol and analytical methodology for determining if treated water is clean enough to reuse or recycle.

Currently, McLeroy is developing a training workshop on analytical methods for a new water treatment lab at Surcolumbiana that would support the country’s water re-use effort. He is developing a two-day course for water inspectors that could be taught at the TEEX Water and Environmental Lab at the Riverside campus or in Colombia. TEEX could also offer its four-day membrane technology course for Colombia, McLeroy said.

TEEX and Texas A&M are going beyond borders to provide a link to research opportunities, water treatment, workforce training, soil remediation and an opportunity for Texas A&M students to work in Colombia, Burnett said.