FOR Milestone Environmental Services, LLC (Milestone), 2018 was a good year and 2019 should be every bit as good, if not better. The oilfield waste treatment and disposal specialist is especially busy in the Permian Basin in West Texas.
In fact, four of the company’s seven facilities are in the Permian Basin. Two of the four facilities were opened in 2018—one of which was completed in July 2018 near Orla in northern Reeves County while the other was completed in August and is near Stanton in Glasscock County.
The other two Permian Basin locations have been in operation since 2017—one near Pecos, while the other is south of Midland. Milestone also has two facilities in the Eagle Ford shale play and one near Jasper in the Haynesville shale play in East Texas.
“With the addition of the Stanton and Orla facilities in 2018, Milestone became the clear leader in slurry waste disposal in the Permian Basin,” says Gabriel J Rio, Milestone president and chief executive officer. “We are positioned for extraordinary growth in the most prolific drilling region in the United States.
“We plan to build two to three additional facilities in the Permian Basin during 2019. In spite of the recent fall in oil prices, the Permian Basin is very busy, and we expect the Permian oilfield to remain active during 2019.
“Volumes of production water and drilling fluids that must be hauled away from well sites for disposal continue to increase. There are almost more of these wastes to be hauled away than there are trucks in the Permian region to haul them. Some of our customers are even considering pipelines from their well sites to our facilities.
“Our goal in the Permian is to have a facility within an hour of every customer in the region. We expect to have as many as 10 facilities in the Permian Basin over the next several years.
“We have assembled an incredibly talented team that has enabled us to develop new facilities quickly, operate them safely and efficiently, and provide excellent service to our customers.”
The company that became Milestone began operations in 1993 as American Disposal Services (ADS), and has consistently been providing slurry injection disposal of oilfield waste ever since. In 2014, ADS was acquired by Intervale Capital and was renamed Milestone Environmental Services. The company is headquartered in Houston, Texas.
Milestone serves the US onshore oilfield sector with an environmentally focused, cost-effective, and efficient approach to managing oilfield waste. Milestone’s strategically located state-of-the-art disposal facilities serve leading US oil and gas operators.
At its facilities, Milestone primarily handles drilling waste streams, including water- and oil-based mud, along with some completion and production waste such as tank bottoms and water waste streams. These are Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)-exempt, non-hazardous liquid and injectable slurry streams.
“We handle a wide range of waste streams, and we specialize in some that are very challenging,” Rio says. “We remove solids, which are hauled away for land disposal, and we send the liquids to our disposal wells. Produced and flow-back water account for the largest volume of liquids pumped down the wells. Millions of barrels of water are involved in every oil and gas well drilled by the production companies.”
Developed over more than 25 years, Milestone’s proprietary slurry injection differentiates the company from traditional landfill or saltwater injection sites. “Our slurry injection process is a high-quality, environmentally secure, and economically efficient method for oilfield waste disposal,” Rio says. “Each of our sites is permitted for two disposal wells.”
Milestone’s slurry injection wells are drilled deep into the earth, thousands of feet below usable groundwater. While the liquid wastes are injected into highly permeable geological strata (injection zones), these zones are overlain and contained by solid, impermeable layers of rock or shale (confining zones). These confining zones, along with thousands of feet of earth and rock that lie between the injection zones and usable groundwater, serve to protect water sources that are critical to the health of the environment.
Once the well has reached its targeted depth (at least 5,000 feet), multiple layers of steel casing are placed downhole into the wellbore and cemented into place. These barriers create a secure, impermeable wall between the wellbore, groundwater, and other surrounding strata. The integrity of the wellbore is tested at regular intervals.
In addition to the disposal well, Milestone facilities have an office building that includes equipment to test waste samples taken from every tank trailer that brings water or drilling mud to the site. The facilities have covered-bay unloading stations, fiberglass and steel wastewater storage tanks surrounded by concrete containment, and a concrete-and-steel-lined storage pit used to dry drilling mud solids. At most sites, a bunkhouse accommodates workers from outside the region.
Facilities are designed to minimize the impact on the environment and the community. Waste minimization includes reusing salt water in tank cleanouts, recovering oil, and capturing solids.
Ample truck parking is available at each Milestone site. With the ability to handle upwards of 150 tank trucks per day at each facility, the company wants to make sure waiting tankers don’t block roads and highways.
“The oilfield runs 24/7, and so do we,” Rio says. “Our facilities are always open, and we run two 12-hour shifts. We also make sure our customers know which of our sites are busy and what the wait times are.”
Customers can access Milestone’s web site for a map of disposal site locations with speed of service and wait times posted (www.milestone-es.com). Milestone also notifies customers of wait times by email.
A vacuum trailer loaded with flow-back water can be emptied in about 25 minutes, but the whole process including testing the wastewater takes around 35 minutes. Tank trailer washouts typically require 45 minutes to an hour. Some of the more challenging cleanouts can take up to two hours. Washouts are needed to clean out mud solids and tank bottoms collected during salt water tank cleaning at well sites.
Tank trailer cleanout is very much a hands-on activity. Each site typically has a 16-person crew, divided into an eight-person day shift and eight-person night shift. For flexibility, workers are cross-trained in all of the functions.
“We hire enthusiastic people who take pride in their work, and offer them good pay, good benefits, and opportunities for advancement,” Rio says. “We do a lot of promoting from within, and invest in a significant amount of training to help our people transition to new roles.”
Training is a critical factor from the time an employee is hired. New hires are assigned to a training mentor. The first 90 days includes a safety orientation and one to two weeks of initial on-the-job training with the mentor.
“Safety gets a lot of attention in our operation,” Shannon Oliver, Permian Basin Regional Operations Manager says. “Companywide, across all seven of our facilities, we have gone nearly four years without an OSHA-recordable incident.”
Under the direction of Randy Foster, Milestone Environmental health and safety director, the safety program is based on training, coaching, and mentoring. It is a hands-on process that includes quarterly training sessions.