Combining diverse technology to process heavily weathered crude oil in Iraq

Limited technology and controls during Iraq’s early oil production resulted in large volumes of water being discharged into pits. The pits overflowed to create lakes of oil in the desert, which, after decades of weathering, have become a complex mixture of viscous oil, water and sediments.

To mitigate the environmental hazard, RSK Middle East assessed the available treatment technologies. Traditional technologies were largely disregarded because of the logistics of handling the viscous material and/or equipment limits associated with its chemical composition. We proposed a process of heating and blending the viscous oil with a diluent before passing the mixture through a centrifuge to remove solids and water. To verify the concept and to determine the effect of blending different levels and types of diluent over a range of process temperatures, we set up and ran a bench-scale test. The encouraging results led to a full-scale field trial using a plant that we designed, built, imported, installed, commissioned and operated.

The three-month field trial confirmed the laboratory findings and extended into a permanent operation producing a stable and mobile oil suitable for export. The centrifuge has now been replaced by a larger unit to increase production, and further expansion of the facility is planned in 2024.

This project marks a significant milestone in the sustainable treatment of heavily weathered oil. We are proud to have introduced a new treatment train that has contributed to the removal of a potential environmental hazard.