The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Countries face critical challenges with respect to fresh water supplies, extensive energy use for desalination, effluent disposal, and overall waste management and their environmental/ecological impacts. Industry, particularly petroleum refining, can target many sustainable practices to conserve water/energy and minimize wastewater discharged to the environment.

This paper explores integrated water management opportunities at petroleum refineries based on experiences drawn from US and the Middle-East. Using data/statistics and case studies, this paper analyzes the following issues:

  • Water use in petroleum refining: an analysis of water consumption is presented based on bench-marking studies performed on US/Middle-East refineries.

  • Water reuse applications and "fit-for-purpose" water reuse concepts. This explore various water users in a typical refinery, water quality requirements, and reuse opportunities.

  • Advances in treatment technologies for water reuse applications, including biological nutrient removal, membranes, and advanced chemical/physical treatment in use at other refineries. Environmentally beneficial applications of constructed wetlands for effluent polishing will also be discussed.

  • Operational issues and limitations of various technologies and how to mitigate operational concern through proper testing and design.

A Recent case study for a Middle East petroleum refinery will be presented addressing spent caustic treatment, stripped sour water management, and total nitrogen removal.


In petroleum refineries, water is vital for many applications including crude washing, cooling, steam production, fire protection, etc. Dependence on uninterrupted water supplies is therefore critical to sustaining production and avoiding financial loss. For this reason, refinery managers and operating staff place a high importance on securing adequate and reliable water supplies.

Refineries also generate large amounts of wastewater which are typically discharged to the environment (mainly fresh and marine water bodies) after some level of treatment to meet regulatory imposed discharge limits. These limits vary from one location to another. In ecologically sensitive areas, a higher degree of effluent treatment may be required to allow discharge into the environment. In other cases, zero effluent discharge and total effluent reuse may be the only alternatives available to avoid shutdown of refinery operations. As shutdown of a refinery operation is a clear driver for water reuse in this case, there are other factors that may motivate refineries to focus on water reuse strategies as discussed below.

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