Home / ANALYSIS / Special Report: Smart remediation – cleaning up contaminated land across the Middle East

Special Report: Smart remediation – cleaning up contaminated land across the Middle East

by Guest on Aug 2, 2017

Ronnie Theodory, regional environment        business director, Middle East, Arcadis.
Ronnie Theodory, regional environment business director, Middle East, Arcadis.

Innovative approaches can accelerate the speed at which contaminated sites, used by oil and gas firms, both upstream and downstream, once more become viable for alternative uses, opines Ronnie Theodory, regional environment business director, Arcadis.

Natural resources like oil and gas have played a critical part in the development of the Middle East region. Exploration, production, and the exportation of these fuels have served as the economic engine that has enabled the GCC countries to invest in incredible nation-building programmes over the last 30 years.

However, while these petrochemicals have significant economic value, they also carry an inherent risk, if they are released into the environment. Whether through accidental spillages at gas stations, leakages from ageing pipework, or other natural factors, environmental contamination is an issue in many parts of the Middle East region.

Contamination of land and water represents a significant liability as it can persist for decades, poses a threat to human health, and can be very costly to remediate. Precise solutions are required that can effectively address these issues in the quickest, safest, and most cost-effective manner possible.

Traditional methods impacting the value of remediation

In the Middle East, one of the biggest remediation challenges to date has been a reliance on outdated investigation methods like monitoring wells. This approach is well understood within the industry. However, it is one that is fundamentally flawed as it prioritises repeatability at the expense of accuracy.

As a result, it often provides a skewed perspective on the size of a contaminant source and its behaviour. This makes it difficult to develop a remediation strategy that will remove the contaminant mass in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Traditionally, there has also been a focus on treating the entire plume rather than a targeted portion. This is unnecessary as our research shows that, in an average large plume, over 80 percent of the contaminant mass resides in less than 20 percent of the plume. Trying to treat the whole plume results in higher costs, longer clean-up timeframes and lower performance, all of which can mean that remediation efforts fall short of the initial client expectations.

New approaches needed to accelerate remediation activities

To help build greater momentum around remediation in the region and accelerate the speed at which contaminated land is cleaned up, a smarter and more commercially focused approach is needed. To address some of the limitations that we see with traditional forms of remediation, Arcadis developed a more innovative approach to site evaluation, which is called Smart Characterization™.

This new solution helps to accelerate the speed at which site investigations are carried out by focusing on the part of a groundwater plume that is moving, as this is the area that poses the greatest potential risk and liability. This dynamic approach to site investigation provides clients with a clearer understanding of site conditions and enables them to make better business decisions.

By using real-time, high-resolution sampling and 3D visualisation tools, Smart Characterization can create a flux-based conceptual site model (CSM) that distinguishes the contaminant mass that moves from the static mass.  The ability to map and distinguish mass transport zones from mass storage zones is key to a successful remedy as this facilitates a much more focused and cost-effective remediation solution.

Defining the magnitude of mass movement at different zones within an aquifer is also crucial. Transport behaviour, and effective clean-up options, differ along the length of a plume due to the plume maturation process.

This leads to different styles of contaminant mass movement, or flux, in different soil types along the length of a plume. Smart characterization helps clients to optimise treatment at different segments of the plume and establish reliable project goals and timeframes before large-scale remediation begins.

The visualisation tool also reduces the need to follow the traditionally repetitive processes of drawing up work plans, sampling and testing, and analysing and reporting data. By removing some of this labour-intensive activity, it is possible to minimise the time needed to understand the risk and implement a remedy.


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