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GWPC report analyzes produced water management

The council’s study looks at regulations, water management practices and research needs

During his keynote address on the second day of the Permian Basin 2019 conference, Advisian’s vice-president for upstream and midstream water, Michael Dunkel, presented a recently published Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) report that analyzes produced water management practices and opportunities in several key basins.

The three-module report provides insight into the regulatory environment governing produced water, current oilfield water-handling practices, and areas where further research is needed to make reuse outside the industry possible.

In 2012, about 45% of produced water was reinjected for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), followed by injection for disposal at nearly 39%. Produced water is also already being recycled for oil and gas activities in several basins; however, as Dunkel pointed out, good recent data on water volumes and how they are reused across the industry is not widely available.

Oilfield reuse, including recycling for well completions and fracking operations, varies from basin to basin, and operator to operator, depending on several factors. The GWPC report notes that cost is the main determinant in what operators choose to do with their water. It also highlights how regulatory issues such as water rights can hinder or facilitate reuse.

“If there are legal clouds hanging over what can I do with that produced water, it’s going to really restrict what happens,” Dunkel said.

According to the GWPC, less than 1% of produced water is reused outside the oil & gas industry. However, this could change with more research to establish best uses and improve treatment technologies, and efforts to tackle regulatory and other roadblocks. State governments are largely responsible for regulating produced water and they do so depending on state-specific laws, environmental concerns and the characteristics of the water. Dunkel told the audience, “In the long run, produced water may be a resource and the states probably ought to consider how to bring it into their planning.”

For beneficial reuse to occur on a larger scale, companies will need to do their due diligence in terms of making practical considerations regarding project feasibility, identifying and managing risks and ensuring that proposed treatment methods match the water’s intended purpose, whether for agricultural, industrial or other applications.

Average water quality by basin


Many factors go into producers’ ability to recycle produced water and regulators’ willingness to increase the ease of use outside the oilfield. This chart shows the average water composition in several key regions for a few significant components. Differences between basins, some of which are in the same state, highlight the complexity that regulators and operators face in weighing options for produced water recycling and reuse.

Source: Groundwater Protection Council

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