How the Co-op refinery is using new technology to clean millions of gallons of water

It was a colossal, $200 million project that took more than seven years to build.

Today, the Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) in Regina, Saskatchewan has nearly reached its goal of cleaning over two million gallons of wastewater…every day.
It’s a ground-breaker. When the Wastewater Improvement Project becomes fully operational, likely this fall, CRC will be the only North American refinery recycling all of its wastewater, with two-thirds of it going into steam production.
Water is critical to the operations of the CRC, because it uses steam to refine crude oil. When the refinery planned its expansion, which opened in 2013, it became clear that a new approach to water use would be necessary, said Gil Le Dressay, Vice-President of Refinery Operations.

“The refinery has a lot of well water that it uses from the aquifer below it. When we completed our expansion, we didn’t have enough well water from the City of Regina, which was not a sustainable solution.

“The Water Security Agency left it to us to come up with a solution, and our solution was to recycle water.”

CRC came up with a “zero discharge” design, reducing the need to pull water out of the ground and eliminating the need to use the municipal water supply. The project has freed up enough water to serve the equivalent of 3,100 households in the City of Regina per year.

“If you look at it from the sustainability perspective, the Co-op model really is born out of community,” he said. “The Co-op has a lot of community values. The whole oil industry does, around protecting the environment.”

How it works

The CRC’s system is a multi-pronged approach. For starters, the refinery uses every drop of water that falls on its 800-acre property.

“What this project allows us to do is when we have heavy rain or snowfalls, it allows us to draw less from the wells,” explained Le Dressay. “We have storm water ponds all over the complex.”

A special blend of live bacteria eats the impurities in the wastewater ponds. Spaghetti-like, hollow strands of “Zee Weed” filter wastewater to remove suspended solids.

The system then employs high-efficiency reverse osmosis to clean wastewater for steam production, using GE technology. Sixty-five per cent of the recycled water goes into steam production, with the remaining recycled water being reused in other processes such as cooling and hydrogen production.  

After being recycled multiple times, water that can no longer be recycled is disposed of in deep wells, including any excess brine.

The overall result is a significant reduction in both water usage and emissions from volatile organic compounds, which has the added benefit of reducing odours.

“We cleaned up the air to the huge benefit of the people around us,” said Le Dressay. “When you look at this holistically, we’ve reduced our water footprint and our air emission footprint.

“A lot of refineries clean their water to high levels, but we’ve taken it to a new level.”

The biggest benefit to the CRC is the extension of its social licence to operate.

“The payback isn’t on the project itself, but on its sustainability, on social licence,” he concluded. “Every ounce is put through the system, and being able to recycle the water is phenomenal.

“This is a way that shows our industry can be extremely environmentally conscious. It shows a guiding light … that we can sustain the environment as well as provide people with energy.”

To learn more about the Wastewater Improvement Project, check out this video: 

Read more about seven other things Canadian refineries are doing to get greener.

And learn how Canada’s refining industry has made history with the world’s first carbon capture storage project, Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS).
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