A growing demand for water crucial to the hydraulic fracturing process is occurring in some areas that are experiencing the worst drought conditions in their histories. The situation has left many wondering what more can be done to address what appears to be a problem that is not going away any time soon.
Water use in fracking was the topic for one speaker’s presentation during this week’s DUG Midcontinent conference in Tulsa, Okla. But the issue surfaced on several occasions as other presenters pointed out the dire situation with maps showing the intensity of drought conditions in yellow, orange, and red. Drought conditions appeared to be the worst in California based on the US Drought Monitor, but other states are not unscathed. A large chunk of Oklahoma is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions.
Although several million gallons of water may be required for the multistage fracturing of a single horizontal shale gas, the amount of water used in fracking is small compared to its use in agriculture, manufacturing, and the municipal water supply, according to FracFocus.org. The chemical disclosure registry, managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, compared water use for electric generation to projected total demand for peak Marcellus shale activity as an example. The latter uses 8.4 MMgal per day, while the former uses nearly 150 MMgal a day in the Susquehanna River basin.
During the DUG conference, Rob Johnston, executive vice president for Apache Corp.’s central region, spoke about some of the problems the industry is facing and possible solutions. In some areas, the industry is starting to compete against municipalities and agriculture for water, he said.
Although surface water – such as fresh water from lakes and rivers – is mostly used during fracking, Apache has successfully used brackish water in its Permian basin operations. The company also has opened a water recycling plant in Wheeler County, Texas, that recycles produced water.
Another way to reduce water use is to simply use something else in its place. This could include the use of gelled propane fracs, Johnston said. Fracking with CO2 or nitrogen-based solutions is among the other techniques being used in limited operations in North America.
Col. Michael Teague, secretary of energy and environment for Oklahoma, asked the oil and gas industry for help during the conference. Of the industries that use water in their operations, Teague called the oil and gas industry the most nimble.
Recycling, at the very least, should be the norm for all operations.
Apache gets about 95% of its water from nonpotable sources, and about 48% of that amount is recycled or reused in secondary oil recovery operations, according to the company’s website.
The industry is capable of rising to the challenge, just as it has done in the past, with proof being the existing shale revolution that is not only boosting hydrocarbon production but also giving local, state, and national economies a lift.
The fact that companies have acknowledged that a major water resource problem exists in some areas and are actively seeking and trying possible solutions shows that the industry is already rising to the challenge.
Contact the author, Velda Addison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.