In 1990, the Laboratory began an investigation into biological approaches for the reduction of water produced from oil and gas wells. In the spring of 1995, the Company began an on-site experiment at an oil/gas lease in Oklahoma using one of these approaches. The process, known as phytoremediation, utilizes the ability of certain salt tolerant plants to draw the produced water through their roots, transpire the water from their leaves, and thereby reduce overall water disposal volumes and costs.
At the Company experimental site, produced water flows through a through where green plants (primarily cordgrass) have been planted in pea gravel. The produced water is drawn into the plant through its roots, evapotranspirates and deposits a salt residue on the plant leaves. The plant leaves are then harvested and used by a local rancher as cattle feed. The produced water is tested to assure it contains nothing harmful to cattle. In 1996, the Company set up another trough to compare evaporation rates using plants versus using an open container without plants. Data taken during all four seasons (water flow rate, temperature, pH, and conductivity) have shown that using plants to evapotranspirate produced water is safe, more cost effective than traditional methods and is environmentally sound.