Oil and water supposedly don’t mix. Like a lot of conventional wisdom, this one is totally bogus. Without water, we wouldn’t have any oil. What do you think is in a supertanker when it goes back empty to Saudi Arabia or Prudhoe Bay? Water. It’s needed for ballast. Without it, the tanker would just pop out of the — water. About 60 million barrels of ballast water is shipped around the globe and is thrown away each day. Now, the Japanese have a better idea: They want to ship waste-water to oil-producing countries in the Middle East, and exchange it for crude oil. Say what?
Currently, sea water is being used as ballast. According to The Nikkei [sub], Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry wants to load waste-water on empty tankers and then bring back crude oil on the return trips. They are in talks with Qatar about that.
Why ship waste-water around the globe? While we are worried about peak oil, water shortages are becoming serious in the Middle East. Japan exported freshwater on trial base to Qatar from last summer to the beginning of this year. But at $0.16 to $0.31 per barrel of fresh water, the matter became too expensive. Now shipping something the Japanese would have had to clean and process anyway is a whole different matter. What’s more, there is a whole ballast water science. Can’t just fill the oil tank with it and pump it back in the sea. You need to be careful about infesting other seas with critters at home abroad. The ballast water science is getting so complicated that one might as well use the water for something else than dumping it in the sea.
The Nikkei is quiet about what Qatar will do with the dirty water. They could use it for industrial production. Or they could process it in Qatar with cheaper energy and – yuck – drink it.