Thermtech is the technology owner of the TCC® process, and aims mainly at selling turn key solutions to customers that is in, or want to enter into, treatment business. Thermtech itself is not offering services, but assists the customers in getting their business up and running. Beside the equipment itself, Thermtech can offer assistance with permit applications and plant design, education and training of customer’s operators and supervisors, installation and commissioning, operational start up assistance, and remote and on site supervision of operations and maintenance.
Thermtech is a Norwegian technology company with a vision to set the global standard for treatment of drill cuttings containing oil from the drilling fluids. The tool to reach this goal is the Thermomechanical Cuttings Cleaner (TCC®) a friction based thermal separation technology that is able to recover the base oil from Oil Based Mud for re-use. The technology can be operated both onshore and offshore. Thermtech believes that treatment in the TCC® is the best environmental option and in most cases also the best commercial option since the TCC is able to recover the high value base oil from the cuttings with the same qualities as the original base oil.
All design work is performed in house by professional engineers who are using advanced software and knowledge tools.In house engineering expertise:Mechanical engineering:3d modelling using Pro/ENGINEER, 2d modelling using AutoCad, Complex FEM analysisThermal engineering:Process design and calculation, mass and heat balancesElectrical engineering:In house competence
The actual manufacturing is outsourced to professional and experienced manufacturing companies. Thermtech, however, retains responsibility and performs the main assembly, installation and commissioning of TCC units.
During exploration and production drilling a so-called drilling mud is used. This drilling mud will normally contain very high quality oil for the purpose of lubricating the drill bit during the drilling operation. The drilling mud is referred to as an Oil Based Mud or simply OBM. During the drilling operation the OBM will be mixed with the mineral solids from the ground, and this mixture, referred to as oily drill cuttings, OBM cuttings or drill cuttings, will contain approximately 10 to 20% of base oil from the drilling mud, meaning that the OBM cuttings is defined as a hazardous waste in most jurisdictions.
In the early age of oil exploration in the North Sea, this waste was simply dumped to sea. Some years later it was recognized that such a method was not environmentally friendly. Today a lot of research is spent on finding solutions to how to clean up this old mess.
The same problem obviously arises when drilling takes place onshore if the waste is not properly taken care of. Leakages from oil waste pits may easily pollute the ground water. Something needs to be done with this waste before it ends up at the sea bottom or unprotected at an onshore site. It is better to be safe than sorry when natural resources like marine life and fresh water is at stake. It should be properly taken care of to avoid environmental damage.
There are various treatment options, like injecting it into a well, controlled landfill, incineration and bioremediation. With the increased focus both on pollution and on efficient use of natural resources, the global trends move towards separation of the components in the waste for useful purposes. The TCC® fits well into this picture.
Abandonment, dumping and uncontrolled disposal of waste becomes prohibited or restricted for obvious reasons. In Europe the member states are obliged towards the European Union to prohibit such actions. Oil on cuttings is potentially harmful to the marine life at least when it is a lot of oil on the cuttings. Zero discharge of harmful substances to sea is implemented in an increasing number of countries and regions, including Angola, Kazakhstan and the Norwegian section of the Barents Sea. In the rest of the North East Atlantic the OSPAR convention prescribes a 1% limit regarding oil on cuttings. Presently there are restrictions most places around the world, but 15, 10 or 6.9 % restrictions are no longer regarded as sufficient, and more stringent requirement is expected in Asia, Africa and the Americas.
There is also an increased focus on sustainable use of natural resources. This means in simple terms that we may well spend the income from the nature as long as it is relatively equally spent. However, we should be careful in using the capital of the nature, i.e. the resources that are not renewable or is renewed slower than the consumption of them. The so-called “waste hierarchy” is an example of how to maximise the use of natural resources. In Europe there is a clear priority system regarding how to handle waste. The high priority term “re-use” it is limited to use for the same purpose for which the component was conceived. The term “recycling” includes “re-use” but also other sorts of recovery of components for useful purposes. However, “recycling” does not include using the component as fuel. The term “recovery” also includes using the component as fuel. Then we have the disposal activities, further down in the hierarchy. Typically it includes incineration, landfill and re-injection.
The third global tendency is the introduction of standards like “Best Available Technique” (BAT), “Best Environmental Practices” (BEP) or similar. The purpose with these standards is to find the solution that is best for the environment as a whole. These standards work hand in hand with the two tendencies already mentioned. In the European Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention & Control (the IPPC Directive) a definition of BAT is found and there are guidelines regarding what the important considerations are. The IPPC Directive does not yet apply to Oil exploration and production as such, but it applies to all installations, also within the oil exploration and production industry, for Recovery or Disposal of Hazardous waste with a capacity of more than 10 tons per day. The OSPAR Convention, clearly applicable for oil exploration and production, have definitions both of BAT and BEP, but these two definitions read in context says basically the same as the BAT definition in the IPPC Directive.
The Best Technique is the one that is best for the environment as a whole. A technique is not just a technology, but the combination of technologies, how the installation is designed, built, maintained and operated, and also how it can be decommissioned. In the IPPC Directive, there is a list of considerations to be taken into account regarding what is best for the environment as a whole, in essence focusing on:
- consumption and recovery of raw material, water and energy,
- pollution or emissions used at or resulting from the installation,
- the risks and hazards involved.
This Best Technique has to be Available, technically, economically and marketwise. For it to be technically available it has to be developed on a scale which allows implementation in the relevant industrial sector. Marketwise, it is available even if it is only produced outside the European Union, as long as it is “accessible”. Economically, there are two tests, one of proportionality and one of viability. In the proportionality test the costs are compared only to the environmental benefits, based on the thinking that it becomes ridiculous if only a marginal environmental benefit is gained at an enormous extra cost. But if the environmental benefit is high, the cost will simply have to be borne. This viability test does not relate to any specific business entity but to the industrial sector (as a whole). This means that a treatment plant will be forced to stop its business even if there is no way it can afford the required investment, as long as it is affordable in the industrial sector. It is not expected that any of the large oil companies will ever argue that there is not enough money in the oil sector.
The Directive is only binding on the Member States, but these states are then obliged to introduce a permit system that is binding on the domestic companies or individuals, including a requirement to use BAT.
The good thing about recovery of the base oil in the waste is that the recovery operation will also create income or a cost saving. In particular in regions where the base oil has to be imported, such as in the Caspian, it may even create a level of income that is more or less equivalent to the cost of the recovery operation. Environmental and commercial interests will go hand in hand if the recovered base oil can be used to substitute the expensive base oil, even more expensive locally due to transport costs.
Thermtech believe that they can very often challenge any other existing method or technology simply based on the business case itself. Even discharge to sea can be less economic in given situations, in particular if future liability is taken into account.