Insiders at a Produced Water Society workshop held this month discussed their ideas on how water management in the industry can change for the better.
Participants in the opening plenary of the Produced Water Society’s “Financing the Future of the Water Midstream” workshop discussed current practices, how to enhance recycling and the potential for future beneficial reuse projects. State regulators, government researchers and representatives from operating companies focused on industry and regulatory efforts to improve Permian Basin water management.
The push for more produced water recycling is particularly salient in southeastern New Mexico, where average water cuts are generally higher than in the rest of the Permian Basin and produced water volumes are expected to reach around 1.25 billion bbls in 2019. The state also faces a scarcity of freshwater resources, making recycling and even beneficial reuse projects particularly appealing.
“One of the things we’d love to see is a shift towards more water recycling and reuse within the oil & gas industry,” Adrienne Sandoval, director of New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division, said during her presentation. She noted that, while only 8-10% of the state’s produced water is currently recycled, around 60% is disposed. The state has only 144 recycling facilities compared to 828 active saltwater disposal wells.
New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) cabinet secretary James Kenney described the state’s attempt to incentivize recycling and other sustainable water management practices through the passage of HB 546 earlier this year. The bill clarified several liability issues, put in place a financial assurance requirement for produced water transfers and created a state permit requirement for the treatment of produced water for use outside the oil & gas industry.
Joe de Almeida, Occidental Oil & Gas Corporation’s director of water strategy, said that industry stakeholders should all be striving to conserve freshwater resources. In his presentation, he discussed how technological innovation and falling treatment costs have provided new opportunities for more sustainable produced water management.
“We have replaced, to a large degree, freshwater with brackish water,” de Almeida told the audience, referring to source water for hydraulic fracturing activities. “More of that needs to be done, and both [fresh and brackish water] can be replaced by recycling that plentiful, available produced water.”
Further efforts are needed to make next-generation opportunities for beneficial reuse possible, de Almeida said. He added that the economics of partial desalination were improving, which could help operators reduce produced water disposal volumes and someday allow for new applications of treated water, such as irrigating nonedible crops.
Elena Melchert, the Upstream Research Division director for the Department of Energy (DOE), explained the importance of produced water as it relates to energy security and how the government agency is approaching the issue. “Over the years, we’ve spent about $100 million on technology to address produced water,” Melchert said.
The DOE has also pursued related initiatives such as the White House’s 2019 Water Security Grand Challenge. As part of that, Melchert leads a program aimed at transforming produced water from a waste into a resource by 2030. As such, the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy has earmarked more than $4.5 million in funding for four produced water treatment projects in 2019.
Furthermore, the DOE has recently chosen the National Alliance for Water Innovation to lead its Energy-Water Desalination Hub through a five-year, $100 million grant. The hub will advance the understanding of desalination technologies for non-traditional water sources, including produced water.