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RFID Monitors Wastewater Disposal at Hydrofracking Sites

GreenHunter Water LLC is installing RFID-based technology at oil wells to track the removal and disposal of wastewater, helping oil companies ensure that they comply with regulations.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 26, 2011GreenHunter Water LLC a Grapevine, Texas, provider of water-management solutions and services to oil and gas companies, is installing the first of its new RFID-based well-head management system at six oil-drill sites in West Virginia. This deployment will enable the company to track wastewater pumped out of temporary storage tanks and subsequently deposited in authorized waste wells, and then share that data with its customer—the oil firm that owns and manages those drill sites, which has asked to remain unnamed.

The solution, known as RAMCAT (Remote Access Management Compliance Asset Tracking), employs ZigBee-based 2.4 GHz active RFID tags to not only track the amount of wastewater being offloaded from tanks, but also the movements of tank trucks transporting that fluid, thereby ensuring that they do not leave authorized roads.

An RFID-enabled kiosk monitors the amount of wastewater removed from storage tanks.

Drilling for oil and natural gas in shale rock involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into a well, in order to break up the shale and allow the oil or gas to be extracted. The process, known as hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking), generates large volumes of "flow back" water. The water is separated from the oil, stored in tanks on site, and later removed by truck to an authorized permanent location. Oil-drilling companies must follow strict state and federal regulations, including ensuring not only that the water is disposed of properly, but also that only designated roads are used to transport that water, in order to ensure that other public roads are not damaged. GreenHunter is among the companies that provide the tanks in which the water is stored, as well as removal services to approved disposal wells, using its own and third-party trucks. Details regarding the amount of liquid removed, and when this occurs, are typically recorded on paper by a driver or on-site operators, and the volume is estimated based on the length of time that a hose was connected to a tank and removing water.

GreenHunter has numerous oil-drilling customers, and is initially installing the new automated system for an oil firm that is headquartered in Ohio but operates drill sites with GreenHunter water tanks in West Virginia. GreenHunter removes water from the West Virginia site and transports it to a disposal well located in Ohio.

With the RAMCAT system, the top of the storage tank is fitted with a hydrogen sulfide (HS2) sensor and an automated valve with two built-in sensors—one to measure the level of water within a storage tank, and another to measure temperature. The sensor-and-valve unit is wired to a solar- and battery-powered kiosk with an embedded computer, integrated with a 2.4 GHz RFID transponder and GSM cellular and satellite communication technology. Temperature is important to measure, since the temperature of water affects the speed at which the liquid can be removed from the tank. The kiosk's computer stores information, including a unique ID number, sensor data and a list of authorized drivers who may access the tank to retrieve water.

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