Market spotlight: Aqua-Pure

Water is the new frontier for Aqua-Pure

When Aqua-Pure Ventures got into the water treatment business, it was ahead of its time. A company with an eye to change the water treatment process in North American oilfields, Aqua-Pure endeavoured to lead its, and now owns a market niche.

CBJ had the opportunity to connect with former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, a board member for Aqua-Pure, as well as COO Brent Halldorson and Richard Magnus, current Chairman.

Even prior to being in politics and serving as the Minister of the Environment, Klein said that the “land we live on has always been of great importance to me. I’ve always been concerned and interested in it,” and this interest is what sparked his fondness for Aqua-Pure. It comes as no surprise that a public advocate like Klein would be interested in this innovative enterprise, as Aqua-Pure owns patented technology that is changing the face of the water treatment market, treating wastewater in oilfields that traditionally has been disposed of.

Breakthrough and revolutionizing technologies

Aqua-Pure’s ‘Clear Solutions’ involve combining breakthrough evaporator technology with other best-available systems to reduce the customers’ water management costs. Of the current methods available to treat wastewater, Aqua-Pure’s method is the most effective.

Magnus said that taking on the oilfields wastewater market was an obvious move for Aqua-Pure, as it made sense for the application of their technology. “We saw that water treatment was becoming a bigger and bigger issue, especially in nonconventional oil and gas sectors. So the genesis of our technology was really around heavy oil development and SAGD. That’s where we got started, and then we took it to the next level with shale gas development.”

Competing with an old mentality

The company doesn’t really have competitors in its field—they have instead always competed with the traditional method of treating water: disposal. The traditional oilfield mentality, according to Aqua- Pure, has been the company’s biggest challenge.

“The traditional mentality has been: I want the oil and I want the gas, but the water is just a nuisance,” Halldorson explains. “So the typical way to deal with water is dispose of it. We shifted that mentality so that water is no longer just a by-product. Water is key.”

When steam is created through SAGD techniques, water comes up from the ground contaminated, but SAGD is only possible with the recovery of water, which is the same scenario as shale gas recovery. But all of the water, with Aqua-Pure, is generally wasted. “Ultimately, we are always competing with the paradigm is that water is an afterthought, so it’s been a long, tough road to get where we are,” Halldorson adds.

This lack of market competition, in its truest sense, is what ultimately enables Aqua-Pure to shine. “We’re the only commercially proven technology out there building these machines and cleaning water,” Magnus remarks. Being a pioneering wastewater company has really benefited the company.

“We cleaned 14 million barrels of this water where no one else has. We feel we have a five-year head start on everyone else because of our patents.”

Of course, there are markets all over the world for this innovative company. But they are not going at the business without having a bit of tunnel vision, for the time being anyway. Aqua-Pure is putting out efforts where it counts: North America, for starters.

Water is the new frontier

“Canada’s a huge part of the North American energy picture. We’re really focusing initially on Canada because shales are being discovered all over, like in Horn River and also the Bakken in Saskatchewan— these are going to be two very large shales,” Halldorson says. “Natural gas is going to be a huge part of the energy picture. Everyone can talk solar and wind but the reality is that they’re not practical at this juncture for the energy needs of the world,” and Aqua-Pure can help deal with one of the biggest challenges with shale and natural gas—the wastewater challenge with recovery processes. North America can expect to see the Aqua-Pure name anywhere recovery is taking place, as more companies in the oilfields realize the potential of cleaning wastewater.

“We’re trying to maintain our focus, as things are really starting to take off,” Halldorson reasons. “Over the next three years, we plan to manage our growth, partner with local companies, and keep an eye on the international market—but we don’t want to get distracted if we lose our focus on North America. Our ultimate goal is to become the leader in North America in the water treatment market,” he adds.

Understanding a complex industry

Location and experience are truly working in Aqua- Pure’s favour. The company focuses in oil-heavy regions, such as Alberta and Texas, and understands the market it is working in. “There’s no limit to the challenges that are out there: water is really the new frontier. Oil is what Alberta is built on, and we understand oil. We understand what drives our oilfield customers. You can’t impose anything on the oil industry; you have to understand the industry first,” Halldorson says.

He adds that overall, the challenge is to “get people to look at the big picture.” Companies operating with the intent to improve recovery, have to evaluate costs, and measure those costs against what cleansing oilfield water will do over the life of an asset—understanding that all assets have unique features and challenges. However, nothing is too challenging for Aqua-Pure. “The key advantage of being a small company is being flexible. We understand that water issues in Arkansas completely different from the water issues in Texas or Alberta.”

Magnus says that being adaptable and mobile has also increased the company’s strength. “We have to be mobile. We can move our equipment all over the oil patch very rapidly,” he says. Understanding the oil industry and the importance of treating water as resources become scarce has certainly put Aqua-Pure in the front of the wastewater market. “You can not sacrifice water for energy; you have to balance the two, simply because they’re just not making any more water. With us, that water stays in that cycle and we can keep reusing it until the cows come home.”

Knowing where the future will be in the wastewater business will surely have an impact on Aqua- Pure’s strategy and business strengths, as alternative energy sources are found and new ways to change the oil landscape are discovered.

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