By on September 19, 2010

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.

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11 Comments on “Japan Trades Wastewater For Oil...”

  • avatar

    They have oil we have water and amber waves of grain. I think we need to renegotiate the prices on what we have and what our Friends in the Middle East need.
    Pumping water down the well to extract the oil is old science but ruins the well. Saudi Arabia already shortened the life of many fields by water infusion,not that they care much. The would rather increase the daily yield during high bbl price periods than moderate output.
    The thought of flushing the toilet with the knowledge it would wind up over there does have a nice side to it;

  • avatar

    You need to be careful about infesting other seas with critters at home abroad.
    I guess the same care should be taken with waste water… you’re exporting crap, but bacteria will also change the other ecosystem.

  • avatar

    You can clean the water, but it doesn’t sound sensible to clean plus desalinate imported water when you have an ocean right there. So fresh water ballast it is. And it seems like that water would need to be highly valued.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Or they could process it in Qatar with cheaper energy and – yuck – drink it.”
    Bad News. Every drop you drink has been through the colon of a pig.

    • 0 avatar

      They process and reuse all the waste water on the space station. I haven’t heard anyone complain, and nobody’s been sick.

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing “yuck” about drinking properly treated water, regardless of the source. There’s a finite amount of water on this planet. and our ecosystem keeps recycling it. Every molecule of water on the planet has probably been somewhere or contained something “yucky” at some point, but once it’s evaporated and recondensed it’s fresh as new again.

    • 0 avatar

      No bad news here: just the future of water.

      The city of Windhoek, Namibia has been supplementing its water supplies with treated wastewater for 50+ years. Works great. Population is as healthy as any. That’s what happens when a small city in the desert doesn’t have a free spending uncle (Sam): they come up with an affordable solution.

      That affordable solution is finally coming to the US (actually it’s here already): Google “Groundwater Replinishment.”

      And if you want no part of this (Yuk!), rest assured it’s probably too late already: most water sources, especially rivers, contain some treated wastewater.


  • avatar

    There are plenty of non-potable uses for fresh water.  And I think they’re likely talking about post-treatment wastewater, which is still considered ‘gray’ at best.  That water is clean and usable for things like farming, or even put into wastewater systems again (maybe they’ll make dual plumbing systems, like some houses on more expensive water do: Cistern for clothes washing, toilet flushing, outdoor uses, city or well water for drinking and dishwashing).

  • avatar

    The supertankers don’t go to Prudhoe Bay, they go to Valdez.

  • avatar

    They have been talking about doing this for Iron Ore vessels as well (and since the water is to be used mostly for dust suppression there is less of an ick factor in using waste-water)

  • avatar

    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.

    Two words:  Zebra Mussels

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