Even conventional oil and gas wells can deliver wastewater to the surface — primarily fluids that flow along with the fossil fuels out of the underground formation. But the industry’s water disposal needs have skyrocketed with the surge in hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water along with sand and chemicals underground to open the pores of dense rock formations and unlock the oil and gas trapped inside.
In arid West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, located at the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, water continues to become an important issue.
Not the lack of water, but the abundance of water being produced alongside the crude oil and natural gas from the carbon-rich formations located under the Permian Basin.
Just before Hart Energy opened its annual DUG Permian Basin conference in Fort Worth in early April, it held a water forum featuring operators and service companies discussing water management — from disposal to sourcing.
“The consensus is, it’s a big issue,” said David Bateman, chief financial officer and chief business officer with Amplisine Labs in Lubbock, who attended the conference.
“It’s the largest expense and the hardest to coordinate logistically,” he said.
Bateman quoted one speaker as saying there won’t be enough fresh water supplies to meet demand for fracturing through 2040.
“We’ve had a lot of focus on water disposal and fluid services. The sourcing side is as important,” he said. “We’re tailoring our technology to accommodate sourcing.”
Amplisine is also encouraging operators to track their water and offers a water-tracking app within its SitePro software system for fluid management.
Every operator has a different and unique set of water-management issues, said Michael Reitz. vice president of Midland-based EnWater Solutions.
He said water-disposal needs have increased in recent years for two reasons: The increasing size of hydraulic fracturing jobs and continued development in the Delaware sub-basin, where formations tend to have higher water cuts.
Since launching SitePro in 2012, Bateman has seen a shift in operators’ mentality regarding fluid management.
Previously, operators dealt with water disposal by drilling disposal wells and trucking the water to those locations, he said. Now pipelines are being built, and even the Texas Department of Transportation is offering rights-of-way for pipelines to encourage their use and reduce the number of trucks on Texas roads hauling water.
Reitz said some operators like to keep water disposal in-house, while an increasingly large number of operators want companies such as EnWater “to take on the headache of dealing with their produced water so they can put their money and manpower into producing oil and gas, what they do best.
“Not to mention their return on investment in oil and gas wells is better than their return on investment in water management projects, in most cases,” he said.
He said EnWater, which was formed last summer by TPH Partners, takes more of a water midstream approach to the saltwater disposal business.
“We go to the location and look for multiple sites so we can tie several facilities into a pipeline network. That way, if one disposal site goes down, we can ship that water by pipeline to another facility. That, in our opinion, is the only way our customers can trust that we will take care of their water every single day,” Reitz said.
In choosing the sites, he said the company studies the seismic history of the area and does all it can to protect fresh water-bearing zones.
There are a rising number of technologies being developed to reduce the amount of water used in fracturing operations, especially fresh water, to reuse and recycle both the produced water and flowback frack fluids, Reitz said. But he said disposal will remain a part of the mix.
“We believe the amount of water produced will be greater than that needed for fracturing jobs, so there will be a need for disposal and recycling,” he said.
EnWater has also been looking at recycling services at what he calls the back end of the system, recycling the produced and flowback water so it can be shipped back to operators for their frack jobs.
“What better place to recycle water than at a treatment facility?” he said.