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Produced water approaches vary among operators

Water treatment and management plans differ according to operators’ unique circumstances

During the Permian Basin 2019 operators’ panel, it became apparent early on that companies approach water management differently according to their unique experiences, financial considerations and project locations. For example, while ConocoPhillips and WPX Energy treat produced water to remove constituents including dissolved solids, iron, bacteria and hydrogen sulfide, Diamondback Resources and Cimarex Energy both focus their efforts primarily on bacteria control.

An area where most operators on the panel seemed to be on the same page was the value of increasing produced water recycling in oilfield activities. Several operators have made significant headway with reuse in the Permian Basin.

WPX started recycling in January 2018. The company now has three of its own facilities with a total recycling capacity of 100,000 bbl/d. Two of the facilities are already online, and the third is expected to begin operating in 2020. Brian Kuh, a senior foreman at WPX, told the audience that the company has been doing 100% recycling in its core operations area since August 2018.

Source: PWS Permian Basin 2019 operators’ panel

ConocoPhillips began its Delaware recycling program in January 2019 and has set its target for the year at 63%. The company plans to begin recycling at its New Mexico sites in 2020, with an initial goal of about 30,000 bbl/d of recycled produced water, or 50% of water production, water management supervisor Karen Work said.

Cimarex is also a major water recycler. The company has replaced all freshwater for its fracking fleets in New Mexico with water sourced from third-party saltwater disposal companies. Robert Huizenga, water resources manager, explained that the company retains no freshwater backup for its fleets.

Diamondback is also shooting for larger recycled volumes in its operations. The company has been consistently hitting an average of 20% and has been able to frack four wells with 100% recycled water so far, said Ben Warden, the company’s water management supervisor.

Because more water is produced than can be recycled in the field, and due to growing disposal well concerns such as overcapacity, seismicity and slowed permitting, all Permian operators will need to find water management alternatives.

Vicki Goodenow, an environmental lead/manager at Equinor, told attendees that accessing disposal sites in Ohio is challenging, prompting the company to look at other options such as treatment for reuse outside the oil & gas industry. Equinor is currently doing this with 5% of its produced water. Proposed legislation in the state that may restrict the drilling of new disposal wells will exacerbate the problem, she asserted.

For the Permian, there are perhaps better, less costly solutions to the need to offload produced water volumes. Rick McCurdy, former senior engineering advisor for Chesapeake Energy, said that sharing water assets such as impoundments and pipelines among operators “just makes good sense.” Kuh and Warden both discussed a more interconnected system in which operators would be able to source produced water or transfer it to their neighbors.

Huizenga noted during the discussion that the creation of this type of network would rely on the development of midstream companies and their infrastructure rather than on operators working together directly. Recently passed legislation in the Permian that clarifies liability issues will make it more attractive to conduct produced water transfers, Work said.

Even with more operators increasing their recycling capacities, in some cases dramatically, it appears there is a growing need to find solutions for produced water beyond disposal in injection wells and reuse within the oilfield.

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