Some key takeaways from the Produced Water Society’s virtual operators’ panel, held on November 18.
PWS brought together panelists from key operators in the US to discuss how the growing emphasis on sustainability as well as environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues has influenced produced water management and operational priorities. PWS president Lisa Henthorne and vice-president Steve Coffee moderated the panel which included Brian Bohm of Apache, Joe de Almeida of Occidental Petroleum, Brian Kuh of WPX Energy, Kirsten Towne of Chevron and Karen Work of ConocoPhillips. Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:
1. COVID’s impact on treatment and recycling is a mixed bag We all know that the practice of oilfield recycling has dropped sharply in 2020 – how can operators recycle produced water if drilling and completions activities are down? This quandary has reinforced the notion that produced water can and should have a local use outside of oil & gas operations. Another impact of the pandemic-spurred downturn is that operators have slashed capital spending, including funds that would have gone towards optimizing facilities. This has forced water managers to think more creatively to accomplish more with less.
2. Environmental sustainability and positive bottom lines are not mutually exclusive Meeting ESG targets requires money, but it can also mean savings in the long run through process and facility optimization as well as securing necessary inputs (such as water for new well completions in areas facing water stress) to reduce business risk. At the same time, for many operators, maintaining access to fresh capital will be increasingly contingent on sustainable practices as investors and shareholders move towards making ESG a priority.
3. Data is essential to the ESG mission Access to data is improving, especially at operations where digital solutions have been implemented. Online monitoring and measurement tools have enabled producers to approach operations more holistically and optimize processes including water management and treatment. Data is also key in facilitating produced water reuse outside the oil & gas industry. As one panelist noted, the lack of clear and complete data on produced water volumes and qualities makes it challenging to estimate the potential for reuse and is an obstacle to the development of ESG goals and regulations related to those activities.
4. Water stewardship and emissions goals are sometimes at odds Much of the produced water that is recycled, especially in shale basins, undergoes little to no treatment. However, recycled water used in other resource developments – steamfloods, for example – must be higher quality, therefore necessitating energy-intensive equipment such as evaporators or reverse osmosis units. Likewise, water destined for beneficial reuse will also require energy-intensive treatment systems. This runs counter to operators’ and regulators’ emissions goals, but technology providers, academia and government agencies have joined forces to develop economical, energy-efficient treatment alternatives.