Rubén Mendoza
Director General
Züblin Ambiental

Cleaning up the Oil and Gas Industry

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 10:45

Züblin Ambiental (Züblin) is a company with over 50 years of experience in the restoration of contaminated sites and groundwater treatment. “The company was first established in Germany, after World War II and the industrialization of the country caused significant levels of contamination,” explains the company’s Director General, Rubén Mendoza. Züblin began as a construction company with an arm for the restoration of contaminated sites and water treatment. The company arrived in Mexico 15 years ago. “Most of the problems we are solving in Mexico are a result of practices from the 1970s, and while these had been identified and classified, they had been solved at a slow pace until that point,” Mendoza conveys. In Mendoza’s experience, the oil industry is a considerable polluter not only in Mexico but all over the world, so it is not surprising that PEMEX is the firm’s main Mexican client. Züblin mostly works on soil contamination caused by spills and leaks of oil pipelines and storage tanks. At the moment Züblin is dealing with retrospective problems, since the previous mentality has been focused on production regardless of the consequences. “The gasoline residue was delayed due to lack of budget, but now PEMEX has made a considerable effort.” He adds that PEMEX adopted a new vision in the late 1990s that began to prioritize matters of safety and environmental protection. Gasoline theft by duct sabotage is a new problem that was first witnessed six years ago, Mendoza mentions. “This problem is difficult to control and in many cases it causes soil contamination and leaking. PEMEX has developed a faster response, yet this is occurring more and more often.”

Mendoza firmly believes waste management is a critical area that must be addressed and the government has no clear policy surrounding this issue. “PEMEX requires a clear waste management policy since, at the moment, technology cannot distinguish between ordinary and toxic waste.” He notes that, in some instances, PEMEX must implement expensive solutions because the cheaper alternatives are yet to be introduced to Mexico. According to Mendoza, Mexico began to draft environmental laws in the 1990s and the first soil remediation norm was published in 2004. His concern lies not in the norms themselves, but in the authority’s lack of enforcement, which has been a long-standing issue. Züblin has the technology and knowledge to provide preventive measures, but the main barrier is that companies have not developed enough of an environmental consciousness to invest in these solutions. “Few companies in the mining industry implement preventive measures, and chemical and textile industries were even less keen to approach environmental problems. In reality, most companies see these environmental solutions as expenses and not investments.”

In spite of the structural obstacles, Züblin has the means to help PEMEX and other companies mitigate their environmental externalities. Traditional soil remediation technologies consist of removing the soil, treating it, storing it, and then returning it. Mendoza claims it is difficult for PEMEX and other industries to implement these technologies because they require a halt in operations. Züblin’s technology is based on bioventing, and it involves taking the firm’s equipment onsite, digging wells, injecting air, and removing the contamination as vapor. The main competitive advantage of this solution is that operations are not interrupted. Züblin has successfully implemented this method since 2006.

Züblin is also introducing a new water treatment called wetlands, which has been successfully developed in other parts of the world. “The unique quality of this water treatment is that the system is completely natural. The systems use natural processes involving wetland vegetation, soils, and naturally-occurring bacteria to improve water quality,” explains Mendoza. This biological method is low maintenance and it focuses on the harmonious interaction between the plants, filters, and micro-organisms. This system is especially relevant for treating areas that were lost to development and for mitigating environmental disturbances. “We have cooperated with Bauer, which is a leader in this area, in order to gain expertise and knowledge. PEMEX is interested in installing this technology in some of its facilities across Mexico. We are in the planning stages, but we hope to see this project come to fruition by the end of 2015,” tells Mendoza.