Water is a hot topic these days. Drought. Water rights. Earthquakes and saltwater disposal wells. On May 22, 2014, the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) facilitated presentations by representatives from the oil and gas industry about water conservation and recycling—a hot topic for Commissioner Christi Craddick. Fifteen representatives from companies such as AES Water Solutions, Pioneer Natural Resources, Apache, Halliburton, Laredo Petroleum, Baker Hughes, and Omni Water Solutions relayed in five minutes or less each of their company's water recycling goals, capabilities, and technologies. Each representative commended the RRC for having recently updated the agency’s water recycling rules last year to streamline the permitting of water recycling projects and to create more flexibility for multi-lease/multi-operator recycling activities, thus making water recycling projects cost-effective and encouraging more reuse of produced water.
All present at the Symposium acknowledged that freshwater is in high demand and not readily available for non-drinking water uses in places like the Permian Basin, especially during times of drought. The oil and gas industry isn’t hedging its bets; instead, it’s developing other sources of water to fulfill its need for water for hydraulic fracturing. Companies large and small—both production and service companies—are involved in the research and development, piloting, and implementation of water recycling projects. The technology is out there and it’s working. There is no “one size fits all” recycling technology because water varies from area to area and as a result of changes in operational conditions. The treatment technique depends on where the water is sourced and the water chemistry that you need for your fracking techniques (e.g., slick-water frack v. cross-linked gel frack). But companies engaged in the development and implementation of this technology utilize a range of treatment options. Further, the scale of water recycling infrastructure in the field ranges from mobile technology to water recycling plants with piping connecting well sites to the plant.
Industry presenters also emphasized the benefits of recycling produced water. In addition to avoiding competition with other demands on freshwater sources, reduced transport and disposal costs, and less truck traffic for water transport and disposal were touted as significant advantages. Municipalities greatly appreciate the avoided road repair costs, and I imagine that the reduction in truck traffic may also reduce traffic accidents in these areas.
Several individuals voiced support for voluntary reporting of a company’s water use for hydraulic fracturing. An example was given that the Marcellus Shale Coalition implemented such reporting, and it became a competition among companies. One of the RRC staff members suggested that FracFocus should reflect the source of the water (e.g., recycled, brackish, fresh, etc.) that companies use for fracking so that companies using recycled water would receive recognition for that.
With no end to the drought in sight and drinking water becoming increasingly scarce in some parts of Texas, companies that plan for their water needs and efficiently utilize the water they employ in their operations may very well be helping to ensure their companies’ sustainable operating future in the state.
Ashley T. K. Phillips
Thompson & Knight LLP