What the Wastewater Industry can learn from the Petroleum Industry when it comes to measuring oil in water

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Courtesy of Spectro Scientific

I recently read a comment in the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson that different divisions within a company do just what the name implies—divide a business.  Integration across and communication between the departments was essential to smooth functioning product. 

I think the same is true in the analytical analysis/measurement world—there seems to be a divide in communication with regard to oil in water testing. My father, Paul Wilks, used to say in pre-internet days “talk to three experts from different companies in the industry and you will know more than they do as they usually don’t talk to each other.” With oil in water analysis, I often wonder if the industrial wastewater industry talks to the produced water treatment end of the oil industry.

Fixed filter infrared (IR) analyzers have been used to test oil levels in produced water on offshore drilling platforms for well over 45 years. U.S. EPA methods 418.1 and 413.2 were used extensively on a worldwide basis until the Montreal Protocol called for Freon (the solvent used in the analysis) to be phased out. Infrared analysis using tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene) is still a regulatory method in the North Sea.  

As IR was typically used as a quick verification that oil and grease levels were below the regulated level, other solvents such as tetrachloroethylene, hexane or S-316 are now widely used on offshore oil platforms even though there is not an associated EPA method for these solvents. There is an ASTM method (D-7066) for infrared oil in water analysis using S-316 as the extracting solvent. 

For industrial wastewater, the general feeling is that it is necessary to use an EPA method. However, there are situations where a rapid on-site test can be invaluable and even save money and time. 

On the industrial side, operators of a pretreatment system can test how their oil separators work under different loading conditions. A portable infrared analyzer (such as the InfraCal TOG/TPH Analyzer) gives a result in less than 15 minutes.  This real time result gives the operator the necessary information to make adjustments to avoid sending wastewater to the sewer that is over the regulatory limit.

For the treatment facility that is imposing the limits, an on-site test allows them to catch offenders. While they ultimately require a testing lab to verify the offense, only the samples that are over the limit need further testing. Hopefully, most of the samples will be within the limit saving a significant amount on laboratory testing. If not, a more costly sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) could be avoided by diverting the effluent loaded with oil and grease that causes the blockages.

The individuals involved in the wastewater industry who need to test oil and grease levels in their effluent would benefit to look across the wastewater divide and communicate with the highly regulated petroleum industry to follow their time-tested, field-proven choice of using infrared analyzers to verify their oil in water levels.

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