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What's in the Crude? Investigating the Impact of Water- Soluble Organics in Upgraded Crude Oils on Refinery Wastewater Systems

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As refineries began to process heavier, sour synthetic crudes (syncrudes) from Venezuelan upgraders and from the Canadian Tar Sands, some refiners noticed an increase in soluble chemical oxygen demand (sCOD) in their wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) and an increase in process upsets. Sampling and analyses of the wastewaters that contact crude oils showed many crudes contained elevated concentrations of organic compounds. A comparison of wastewaters from refineries, which process higher amounts of syncrudes, showed elevated concentrations of phenolic compounds, alcohols, ketones, glycols, and amines in comparison with crudes from U.S. domestic sources and from lighter, sweet foreign crudes. Many refiners experience periodic nitrification inhibition and/or biomonitoring failure. The chemical agents in the crude may be contributing to these problems. An investigation was conducted to determine how prevalent these constituents were and the potential effects of the chemical agents on refinery wastewater treatment systems. Twelve refineries treating synthetic and lighter crudes contributed samples over a 3-year period. Influents from refiners processing heavy, sour crudes from Yucat√°n, Orinoco, and Canadian Tar Sands had elevated Volatile Organic Aromatics (VOAs), dissolved alkanes, phenolics, and amines in comparison to influents associated with domestic and lighter crudes. Activated sludge influents associated with Canadian Tar Sands crudes had higher concentrations of alcohols and solvents and organic acids in comparison to influents associated with domestic crudes. Companion data showed that activated sludge influents (DAF effluent) associated with heavy sour crudes and syncrudes had higher total COD and sCOD than influents associated with domestic crudes.

Keywords: Crude; nitrification; oil; phenolics; syncrudes; toxicity; wastewater

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-01-01

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