Report of Saudi Arabia

Ghawar is an oil field located in Al-Ahsa Governorate, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. It covers an area of 280 by 30 km (174 by 19 mi), it is by far the largest conventional oil field in the world, and accounts for roughly a third of the cumulative oil production of Saudi Arabia as of 2018. Ghawar is entirely owned and operated by the National Oil Company in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Aramco. In April 2019, the company first published its profit figures since its nationalization nearly 40 years ago in context of issuing a bond to international markets.

The bond prospectus revealed that Ghawar is able to pump a maximum of 3.8 million barrels a day—well below the more than 5 million that had become conventional wisdom in the market.

Waste Treatment Measures

The drilling wastes treatment program depend many in many factors such as drilling types used, the type of the wastes and also the amount of the wastes produced. The treatment methods can be chemical, physical, thermal or biological.

The thermal method is the most efficient treatment for destroying organics, and it also reduces the volume and mobility of inorganics such as metals and salts. Thermal treatment technologies have been applied in many drilling sites in the region. It involves using high temperatures to break down substances contaminated with hydrocarbons. Thermal treatment technologies can be grouped into two categories. The first group uses incineration to destroy hydrocarbons by heating them to very high temperatures in the presence of air. Incineration is not commonly used for drilling wastes but has greater applicability for materials like medical waste.

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The second group uses thermal desorption, in which heat is applied directly or indirectly to the wastes.

Biological treatment uses microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) to biologically degrade hydrocarbon-contaminated waste into nontoxic materials. Some advantages of biological treatment are: it is relatively environmentally benign; it generates few emissions; wastes are converted into products; and it requires very little transportation. Biological treatment may contain also composting which is similar to land treatment, but it can be more efficient. Also, with composting systems, treated waste is contained inside the composting facility where its properties can be readily monitored. With composting, mixtures of the waste, soil, and other additives may be placed in piles to be tilled for aeration, or placed in containers or on platforms to allow air to be forced through the composting mixture.

Solidification and Stabilization The solidification refers to techniques that encapsulate the waste in a monolithic solid of high structural integrity. The encapsulation may be of fine waste particles while Stabilization refers to those methods that reduce the hazard potential of a waste by converting the contaminants into their least soluble, mobile, or toxic form. Not all drilling wastes are amenable to chemical fixation and stabilization treatments. This method can be adapted for site-specific applications depending on the end-use of the treated material and the chemical characteristics of the waste. Conducting laboratory tests to determine the proper blend of additives to achieve the desired material properties is recommended. Some drilling sites in Ghawar have used solidification/stabilization for drilling wastes. The resulting materials have been used for road foundations, backfill for earthworks etc.

Waste Disposal

Many drilling operations have strategies in place for drilling-fluid recovery and will have established some general regulations for the disposal of materials classified as waste. However, situations can arise that present the engineer managing the solids-control equipment with the issue of whether to discard or recycle some types of waste and how to do it. If disposal costs are not a factor, then all waste can be disposed of and treated, if necessary, onsite or sent to a processor offsite. However, if it is possible to recycle some of the products to the fluids system, it may prove economical to do so. There are several practices to get rid and disposal of drilling wastes summarize as below; Onsite Burial (Pits, Landfills), Bioremediation, Composting, Bioreactors, Vermiculture, Discharge to Ocean, Offsite Disposal to Commercial Facilities, Slurry Injection, Salt Caverns, Thermal Treatment.

Thermal Desorption Burial is the most common onshore method used for disposing of drilling wastes (fluids and cuttings). Generally, the solids are buried in the same pit (the reserve pit) used for collection and temporary storage of the waste fluids and cuttings after the liquid is allowed to evaporate. Pit burial is a low-cost, low-tech method that does not require wastes to be transported away from the well site, and, therefore, is very attractive to many operators. Simply pushing the walls of the reserve pit over the drilled cuttings is generally not acceptable. The depth or placement of the burial cell is important. A moisture content limit should be established on the buried cuttings, and the chemical composition should be determined. Onsite pit burial may not be a good choice for wastes that contain high concentrations of oil, salt, biologically available metals, industrial chemicals, and other materials with harmful components.

The use of earthen or lined pits is integral to drilling waste management. The pit is generally open to the atmosphere, so it also accumulates storm water and washes water from the rig. The strategic location of small pits near drilling sites can also help minimize spillage of waste materials. It is important to know that significant threat to water resources can occur, liners are generally required. Engineering precautions incorporated into the design will help to ensure pit integrity. Precautions should be taken to prevent disposal of any contaminates. Landfills are used throughout the world for disposing of large volumes of municipal, industrial, and hazardous wastes. In landfills, wastes are placed in an engineered impoundment in the ground. The waste is covered with a layer of clean soil or some other inert cover material. Modern design standards require clay or plastic liners. The advantages of onsite burial of drilling wastes include the following:

  •  Simple, low-cost technology for uncontaminated solid wastes
  • Limited surface area requirements.
  • Concerns include the following:
  • Potential for groundwater contamination if burial is not done correctly or contaminated wastes are buried, and the resulting liability costs.
  •  Requirements for Quality Assessment and Control, stabilization and monitoring.

Regulatory Measures

The drilling companies were asked about knowledge on any specific governmental regulations/standards in managing drilling wastes. As drillings occurred in different localities provisions are needed specifically in a certain area. Most respondents were not aware of any such regulations or standards (68%), while 31% claimed to be aware. Therefore, recently there is none of any governmental regulation /standards applied for managing drilling wastes. The governmental environmental agencies should establish the drilling wastes regulations to minimize its impact on the environment, there is an urgent and necessary need for the environmental governmental agencies to start managing and regulating this important waste.

A review of the Presidency of Meteorology Environment’s (PME’s) regulations revealed that the regulations do not address drilling wastes specifically. The regulations addressed waste management in general terms. According to (PME)Article Thirteen of The General Regulations on the Environment‟ of the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME), all persons engaging in production, service, or other activities shall take the necessary actions to achieve the following:

  •  Prevent direct or indirect contamination of surface, ground, and coastal waters with solid or liquid wastes
  • ( Prevent the discharge, in any quantity, of any type of solid or liquid wastes, substance, organic or inorganic compound that may be classified as hazardous into surface, ground or coastal waters.
  • Preserve soil and land and control their degradation and contamination.

Therefore, recently there is none of any governmental regulation /standards applied for managing drilling wastes, on other hand, some oil companies have strong corporate standards containing guidelines applicable to environmental protection policy. Saudi Aramco as a good example has some regulations pertaining to:

  1.  discharge to marine environment from drilling operation,
  2. waste water treatment re-use and disposal,
  3.  protection of marine life,
  4. pollution control and environment protection,
  5.  waste management for fluids, cuttings and rubbish. Also in Saudi Aramco regulations, all oil-based drilling fluids, toxic fluids, and cuttings from toxic drilling fluids must be hauled back to an approved onshore disposal site. For alternative oil-based fluids, LC-50 toxicity tests shall be run to determine toxicity of the cuttings. If fluids are toxic then fluids and cuttings should be disposed in an approved disposal site.

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Report of Saudi Arabia. (2022, Mar 05). Retrieved from

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