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Eco-friendly solution to treat oil industry effluent
AJIT PATOWARY
 GUWAHATI, Sept 12 - At long last, a non-chemical, environment-friendly solution has emerged to the century-old serious environmental problem resulted from the fluid waste at the oil and natural gas drilling sites. This solution is also found to be effective in treating household grey water.

Lumding-born Assam engineer AB Paul has invented an electrolytic method for recycling the oil and gas drilling effluent at the drilling sites.

The first start-up support to application of this process for the public sector oil and gas industry was given to RD Grow Green (RDGG) Pvt Ltd, a technology incubation company located in IIT Guwahati. The process is meant for treatment of oil and gas drilling fluid waste generated in the drilling process in huge quantity. At the drilling sites, such effluent is generated for over a period of one year or more, depending on the depth and size of the drilling exercises.

This robust electrolytic process is to replace the existing physicochemical process. It has many advantages and is an environment-friendly method. Significantly, Paul, who is a former chief engineer of the State public health engineering department, has also invented a mobile ETP technology.

This mobile ETP was developed in accordance with the suggestion of a national level expert committee on the environmental problems caused by oil and gas drilling operations. It could solve the pollution problem arising out of the drilled fluid effluent greatly in 1996. The treated effluent was utilised by the operators for recycling it and to meet up the water demand for various purposes of the drilling sites.

This technology has also helped in saving the environment with its environment-friendly sludge disposal method. It may be mentioned here that around 26 effluent treatment plants (ETPs) based on this invention, are running across the country.

For further improvement in treatment process – mainly by producing least sludge, engineer Paul invented electrolytic treatment process (without mixing chemicals) in a bench-scale model during 2006-07 at a Guwahati-based private laboratory called Assam Environ. The process was tested successfully on effluent samples from various oil fields, including those from Odisha, West Bengal, Tripura, besides Assam. But the problem Paul faced was that none of these oil fields was willing to invest in the development of this process prototype.

The whole concept was presented on many occasions to Oil India Ltd (OIL) at IIT Guwahati. Oil India was looking for prospective start-up projects to sponsor in keeping with their obligation to the national start-up policy.

Realising the importance of engineer Paul’s process, OIL agreed to finance the research project for its development through a prototype and its application in the field. The research for field-scale prototype based on engineer Paul’s invention was done at RDGG Pvt Ltd. RDGG managing director Rajiv Saikia, IITG professors of chemical engineering department Dr MK Purkait and Dr P Saha took part in it.

The prototype was built in two segments – the first being the electrolytic reactor (engineer Paul’s invention in mid-1990s, which is patented) and the second, an ETP (another patented invention of Paul) that was put on trial run in an oil and gas field near Makum for a considerable period. The prototype successfully treated highly contaminated drilling fluid effluent to make it suitable for recycling with least production of sludge.

Paul said the success has opened up its use for treatment of many other industrial effluent, including treatment of grey water generated by the housing apartments, for recycling. Applying this process, 80 per cent of grey water of the apartments can be recycled without much problem.

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