In Texas, a properly drafted oil and gas lease will prohibit the use of the landowner’s surface or ground water. The well driller or operater must bring in water from another source for fracing. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracing, of wells requires substantial amounts of water. About 20% of that water is recovered, but the recovered water often contains various chemicals (generally nontoxic) and other debris. Fracing water used to be considered waste and was put into injection wells deep underground. More recently, the oil and gas industry has come up with another solution that may benefit everyone: water recycling.
In a lot of areas, there have been droughts or there is a shortage of freshwater–including in Texas, where fracing accounts for 50% of water use in select locations. For this reason, interest in recycling the water used in fracing has been growing in the last few years. It is now seen as an economical, and more sustainable, option for the oil and gas industry. Halliburton, ExxonMobil, and XTO conducted a study on recycling recently and presented a paper showing savings of between $70,000 and $100,000 per well, with no loss of production. Walter Dale of Halliburton said: “It is a paradigm shift.”
There are different methods of recycling fracing water, but the goal is to reuse most of the water used in fracing instead of sending it away as waste. Water Rescue Services has a process that separates the water from the chemicals and other waste, taking the 5% that is waste to a dump but reusing 95% of the water. Pure Stream recycles water for use in an oil patch using a more expensive system that cleans water sufficiently that it can be returned to lakes or rivers or used for agriculture. In Texas, Fasken Oil and Ranch is attempting to use no freshwater at all in its fracing operations. By recycling water and using briny water from an aquifer, the company hopes to achieve this within six months.
In Texas this year, the Railroad Commission of Texas revised its regulations on water recycling for fracing. Now drillers do not need a permit for recycling water on their own lease or on a third-party’s property. Previously, a permit was needed. Permit requests shot up between 2011 and 2012, leading the Commission to rethink requiring a permit. Next year when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues its study on fracing it could also propose rules on recycled water.
Critics claim that water recycling does nothing to address concerns about contaminating groundwater through the fracing process. Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, claimed that “(i)t doesn’t lessen the potential for groundwater contamination, and it can increase the amount of contaminants that you are exposing the groundwater to.” Of course, Mr. Arnowitt needs to do his homework. As I have discussed in prior blogs, there has yet to be a scientifically documented case of groundwater contamination due to fracing. Even the EPA backed off its claims of fracing contamination. However, many people are still cautious about fracing’s long term effects.
I suspect that recycling of fracing water will become more and more common, given the cost savings, the environmental benefits and the increasing scarcity of water in many places. Already, in the Marcellus shale, as much as 90% of fracing water is recycled. It’s a good thing to see technology put to use to decrease the environmental impact of oil and gas exploration and production.
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