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Texas academic community to advance produced water research

Texas’ Subsurface Water and Energy Laboratory aims to fill in produced water knowledge gaps with a research focus complementary to similar state- and federal-level endeavors

A new produced water research consortium may soon be coming to Texas. The Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG), a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, held a meeting at the end of February to discuss produced water issues and gauge interest from oil & gas industry players in establishing the Subsurface Water and Energy Laboratory (SWEL).

The meeting followed the publication of two studies led by BEG senior research scientist Bridget Scanlon that analyzed water use for hydraulic fracturing and in non-oil & gas sectors in major US plays, as well as produced water volumes in those regions. The researchers used historical data on water demand and produced water volumes to create projections and determine the feasibility and potential benefits of different types of reuse.

One of the studies found that hydraulic fracturing in half of major plays could accommodate all produced water, while in the other half there would still be excess water volumes. In some of those areas, annual irrigation demand is high enough to incorporate excess produced water volumes. However, the seasonality of irrigation demand poses a challenge, as produced water is generated throughout the year.


Source: Can we beneficially reuse produced water from oil & gas extraction in the US?, 2020

Comparison of water demand and produced water volumes in different US plays

“The main point of our findings is that we should maximize the reuse of produced water for hydraulic fracturing,” Scanlon told Water in Oil. “We don’t think it’s going to solve a water scarcity issue, but we do think that irrigation could accommodate [some] treated produced water.” She added that produced water quality and reliability of treatment technology were key factors in reuse for irrigation.

These studies, as well as several others BEG has conducted in the past, will form the basis of new SWEL research, which will at first center on the Permian Basin, but can eventually expand to include other major plays. The consortium would focus on topics such as water management strategies, the impacts of oil & gas water sourcing on groundwater aquifers and regional variability in water demand and availability. SWEL research could be used to inform future policy and legislation, as well as sustainability strategies for the industry.

Scanlon said SWEL would collaborate and share its data with other consortia that have recently been created to investigate produced water topics, including the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium and the National Alliance for Water Innovation, the latter of which heads the US Department of Energy’s Energy-Water Desalination Hub. SWEL would complement those consortia with research focused on periodic updates on volumetric and regional analysis of water issues, as well as subsurface disposal capacity.

SWEL’s research priorities would be determined by the interests of its members, which Scanlon hopes will include operators as well as water midstream companies. No members have formally joined, but the initiative has garnered great interest with about 60 people attending the first meeting. The SWEL team is now planning a second meeting for as early as April.

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