Global Processing

US oil, gas companies embrace recycling of fracking water

July 22, 2013
<photocredit>Huiping Zhu/iStockphoto/Thinkstock</photocredit>

Water-stressed areas in the United States have already been under pressure to successfully manage scarce water resources for years, but adding hydraulic fracturing to the equation has seriously aggravated the situation. Many fracking companies in states like Texas, where drought is a major problem, are facing pressure from regulators to reduce the amount of water they use in their fracking fluids.

A recent analysis from Reuters, however, reveals that an increasing number of companies have come up with a solution to the problem by utilizing more reclaimed water. Thus, companies are saving costs and cutting down on treatment time, Reuters commented.

This is turning into a widespread trend, commented Walter Dale, strategic business manager of water solutions at oilfield service company Halliburton. While in the past it was considered that recycling was too costly and businesses feared that anything other than clean water could reduce the company's output and was not worth the risk, more and more companies are relying on treated and reusable water for their operations these days.

Although this shift has reduced the amounts of fresh water used for fracking, environmentalists are concerned that it does nothing to reduce the potential for groundwater contamination, and in fact the practice of reusing water that contains a range of chemicals can increase the amount of contaminants that the groundwater is exposed to, said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action.

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Companies using reclaimed water in fracking have been assessing the impact of the innovation on their business. Using Halliburton's H2OForward recycling service on some of its wells in New Mexico has led to cost savings between $70,000 and $100,000 per well, while no reduction in output has been noticed, Dale stated in a paper presented at a Society of Petroleum Engineers conference. Depending on the region, fracking wells may differ significantly in terms of drilling costs but an average well at the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas costs about $7.5 million.

Another well drilling company, FTS International, explained that it uses up to 100 percent reclaimed water in some of its sites in Oklahoma and Texas, and the results were similar to those achieved when using fresh water.

Apparently, the industry is feeling more comfortable with recycling just as regulators are making moves to increase the level of required recycling of water in fracking. The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the oil and gas industry in the state, introduced new rules in March this year aimed at encouraging recycling. The new rules allow operators to recycle water without having to apply for a special permit, if they are operating on their own land leases.

Rules are also predicted to be imposed at the federal level, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering recycled water regulation in its extensive study on fracking, due to be completed next year. Recycling is favored by local communities as well, since it eliminates the need for numerous trucks to carry the necessary water to the site, Reuters noted.