Towards sustainable water use in industry: a case study of the oil refinery industry in Kazakhstan
Summary, in English
The concept of “Sustainable water use” (SWU) aims to assure three pillars of sustainability related to the water sector: the social, environmental, and economical. Industrial development, especially in developing countries, requires an adequate response, as industrial activities are recognized as one of the major sources of water pollution, what leads to deterioration of environmental safety and wellbeing of the society. This thesis aims to understand to what extent the water use in the oil refinery industry in Kazakhstan is sustainable and to assess its impacts on the environment. A system approach was used to evaluate the current status of legislation, the treatment methods, the discharge process, and the effect on the environment in the sector. The weakness of the existing framework was identified by its lack of unified and transparent legislative standards for treatment processes, wastewater quality, and assessments of groundwater contamination with potential negative impact on public safety. Analysis of chemical characteristics of groundwater contamination, based on a seven-year monitoring program from one of the refineries, showed that groundwater has been affected, containing anthropogenically and naturally occurred contaminants, e.g. average exceedance for total petroleum hydrocarbons was 4 times, for total dissolved solids - 5 times, for chlorides - 9 times, for sodium - 6 times and total hardness was more than 6 times compared with World Health Organization and Kazakhstani standards. The analysis made it possible to specify the contribution of each contaminant to the overall pollution and to identify the most polluted sites. These pollutants are likely spreading towards areas with substantial groundwater use. The following investigation included performance of potential spreading of the TPH plume, based on historical observations. The results showed that zone at 2-6 km downstream the source of pollution could be affected by contaminated water, where concentrations of TPH exceeded permissible value. Based on performed investigations, this study highlights importance of implementation of suitable legislative standards with requirements for efficient water-saving techniques. Comparison with developed countries showed that Principles of Circular Economy (CE) (reduce pollution and reuse water) have been neglected in Kazakhstan. However, these principles have a potential to become a response to existing pressure of industrial activities and to achieve Sustainable Development as Driving force. Implementation of the CE for refineries in Kazakhstan requires firstly, the usage of advanced wastewater treatment techniques, and secondly, the introduction of the optimization scheme for water reuse, where regeneration units are established after each technological unit. Establishing criteria for water fees, wastewater quality, and recipients’ characteristics should follow respective and fair practices of the Environmental Impact Assessment, instead of looking for legislative loopholes. These practices include a detailed assessment of a real level of effluents’ toxicity and strict requirements to avoid the transfer of pollutants from one environmental media to another. Also, it is strongly recommended to update the list of contaminants for operational monitoring with inclusion of specific indicators of toxicity, such as PAHs, BTEX and others. It will let to understand the real harm caused by the ineffective systems of wastewater treatment and disposal from oil refineries in Kazakhstan.
This thesis can be used as a trigger to drive and engage all stakeholders into a transparent dialogue about potential consequences of non-sustainable wastewater management in the industry in Kazakhstan. The potential actions might include development of new efficient monitoring programs, stimulation the industry to innovative and water-saving treatment methods, and a creation of a site remediation program.