Fracking at the corner of energy abundance and water scarcity
Fracking for oil and gas amid water scarcity has created a public-private crossroads, with both sides attempting to further their goals, Warren writes. Nowhere is the water-energy nexus so apparent as it is in the fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for oil and gas.
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In Pennsylania’s Marcellus shale, the other big boy play, the costs of water transportation can be up to 25% of the average $6 million for a Marcellus well. In 2010, Range Resources disclosed using about 3.8 million gallons of water for a well. Not only is securing water expensive, but the flowback, the large amounts of water that flow back to the surface initially, has to be gathered, transported, treated and disposed of. In Texas, there were roughly 35,000 active injection and disposal wells for flowback and produced water in 2013. But in Pennsylvania, few exist. This water has to be trucked out to other states for disposal. The ultimate treatment of the volumes of this water is problematic for wastewater treatment plants, with its heavy dissolved solids content. Add to that, produced water is another water issue for the industry to deal with over the course of a well’s production lifetime of 20-30 years.Skip to next paragraph
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With a lack of easier disposal options, more operators in the Marcellus are switching to recycling the flowback and produced waters. While other states can use disposal wells, in Pennsylvania due to the underlying geology and regulations, it is not possible. Therefore drillers and gas companies are increasingly reusing the water in new wells. In the first six months of 2012 they achieved a reuse rate of 90 percent, says an article in Scientific American. A Morningstar analyst estimates that produced water and fracturing waste levels exceeded 1.6 billion gallons in 2012, from 600 million in 2010. He also calculates that 40% of wells recycle this water, up from 6% in 2009.
The water management market in this sector of energy is expected to grow from $11 billion in 2013 to $22 billion by 2018, according to the Morningstar analysis. As the examples of the Permian and Marcellus show, each basin has its own unique factors that impact costs, disposal and treatment options. In Texas’ Permian Basin, the oil services firm Halliburton recorded the results from using its proprietary water treatment process. In this particular case, onsite treatment led to 1,400 less truck deliveries of water, 8 million less gallons of water used, and a savings of $500,000-700,000.
Water Knowledge and Action
Oilfield services firms such as Halliburton, Schlumberger and FMC Technologies are already positioning themselves to compete in this space of water management in oil and gas development. According to the Morningstar analyst on the water-energy issue, water management costs are estimated to increase by 20% when new rules or conclusions are drawn by the EPA. However, the costs of water management to production firms will stay flat as the efficiency gains in management are expected to cancel out the costs of compliance. The larger firms are expected to provide integrated consulting services related to the management of water, state regulations, monitoring, and the entire value chain related to water management and energy development.
While this is one important aspect of water and energy combining, other pieces of the environmental story in oil and gas exploration and development are still present. As problems arise, both the public and private sector must play their respective roles to find creative solutions that solve problems: We need water and energy. We spend excessive amounts of column space and airtime ‘marveling at the problem.’ The risk arises when we simply debate facts and anecdotes but nothing gets done.
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