Hydraulic Fracturing Companies Begin Slow Shift to Recycling WastewaterSource: The Dallas Morning News | 19 August 2014
It is not just oil and natural gas that comes out of the ground here. For every barrel of oil pumped to the surface, more than another barrel of water from deep within the earth comes up alongside it.
With a hue that ranges from gray to black and an odor that resembles gasoline, the water is typically pumped into disposal wells thousands of feet underground. All the while, hydraulic fracturing operations pull billions of gallons of fresh water a year from aquifers that also supply water to cities and farms.
With a years-long drought depleting water supplies across prime drilling areas in south and west Texas, pressure on oil and gas companies has been ramping up. Early indications are the industry is slowly turning toward recycling its own wastewater, along with highly salty and undrinkable brackish water, to curb the strain of the hydraulic fracturing boom.
Data is hard to come by, but estimates are that, in places like the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin, 10 to 20% of the water being used now comes from recycling. And that number is expected to at least double over the next decade, said Marcus Gay, a water analyst at research firm IHS who has since left the company.
Apache, the Houston-based oil company, says it is no longer using fresh water at a 35,000-acre field in the Wolfcamp, one of the region’s hottest oil plays. Water there is so scarce that residents in nearby Barnhart saw their town well go dry last year.
Fasken Oil and Ranch, located outside Midland, expects to be completely off fresh water by the end of the year. Spread across 165,000 acres of sand and shrubs, the ranch has seen some of its cattle wells go dry and has been slowly developing its water recycling operation.
Through an elaborate process that involves electrodes, chemical treatments, and simple gravity, impurities are removed, and what was once wastewater is piped into a holding pond the size of six football fields. Jimmy Davis Jr., who runs the oil and gas operations at Fasken, said it might be more expensive than buying fresh water, but not by much. And the Fasken family, which bought the land in 1913, is worried about how much water is left.
“This family’s going to have this land hundreds of more years,” he said. “The technology’s nothing new. It’s the same thing they’ve been using for years in Africa to clean the drinking water.”