Oil spills are big news because they pose such large-scale environmental damage and clean-up cost. In 2105, energy and environment organization E&E news reported that only about half of the 2700 spills at Texas oil and gas sites were tracked, which had environmentalists wondering why, and more importantly, how it can be fixed.
According to the article, Texas, unlike other states, does not track spills of wastewater, but instead only tracks spills of petroleum products, primarily crude oil. However, many critics insist that wastewater spills are more damaging. When spills are left unchecked and untracked, a disaster is waiting to happen.
Wastewater, sometimes called brine or produced water, contains crude oil fluids. Because it’s not being tracked, there’s no way to assess damage, seepage rates, or effects of a spill and clean-up. When there is a wastewater spill, unchecked amounts of crude oil remnants and other chemical run-off are seeping into the ground, affecting the health of people, livestock, and the land.
So, what can the government and oil companies do to protect the people and the land? Luckily, this is the age of modern technology and the solution already exists. Telemetry—the wired or wireless transmission and reception of measured quantities for the purpose of remotely monitoring environmental conditions—monitors, tracks, records, and transmits any and all data relating to oil production. What used to be a daunting exercise requiring loads of manpower and organized information sharing can now be done with the simple click of a mouse, from anywhere by anyone with access.
One aspect of telemetry that would be especially useful for oil companies dealing with wastewater spills is to implement a cloud-based SCADA system. SCADA, which stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, is the digital recording and monitoring of devices and equipment. Once installed, a manager at an oil production plant could track and measure the levels of chemicals in by-products, like wastewater. If there was a spill or equipment failure, the SCADA unit would electronically alert personnel and trigger an immediate response, thus mitigating damage. Furthermore, management would have all the information at their fingertips for how to best handle the situation because they would know all the chemical data and levels at breach source; that knowledge would mean environmentally-safe clean-up decisions can be made quickly and effectively.
Under the current and inconsistent spill tracking process, if the spill is crude or condensate, and it is five barrels or more, the oil company must follow up with a specific form. This form (H-8) is often on spreadsheets, which need maintenance by personnel and is not a reliable source for data keeping. A cloud-based SCADA solution works by keeping all pertinent information in a digital cloud, thereby accessible anywhere there is an Internet connection. Engineers and plant managers can share accurate data instantaneously, in real time.
Protection of the public and the land must be the top priority for oil companies. Not only do current and future lives depend on the safe production and distribution of oil, but any reckless activity or neglectful behavior in the process can—and does—have dire consequences for the land. With telemetry systems in place, gone are the days of manual data transmission and inaccurate information. Telemetry allows companies to work smarter and safer.