Frequently Asked Questions

What is "produced water?"

The term “produced water,” in a generic industry sense, is used to describe water that is extracted from the earth during oil and gas operations, and often in mining operations. However, used specifically, the term “produced water” is not the same thing as ‘fracking water, or ‘frack flowback.

1.) ‘Fracking water is fresh water that is trucked onto a site, and then mixed with additives. This water is then injected into the earth at high pressure to fracture the rock formation to allow the oil or gas trapped within the formation, to be accessed.
2.) ‘Frack flowback is that water then flowing back up to the surface. About 80% of the ‘facking fluid used to complete a well will come back in the first 30 days of production. After that, the water that comes up along with oil and gas is natural produced water.
3.) Produced water, used as a specific term, is what comes up next. It is the naturally occurring water that comes up with the oil and gas from the drilled formation, after the well has been ‘fracked.

Of most concern in produced water is the family of organic compounds known as BTEX. This acronym stands for Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes, which are closely related. These compounds are soluble in water, so produced water from the extraction of crude oil is always contaminated with these compounds.

Benzene is carcinogenic, while Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes have harmful effects on the central nervous system of humans and animals. Frequently found together, the BTEX compounds are proven to cause cancer and other diseases, birth defects, eventual death and even immediate death with exposure to high concentrations.

How much produced water is generated?

It is commonly known that for every barrel of oil, anywhere from 1 to 50 barrels of produced water are generated. (1 barrel = 42 gallons) Worldwide, the oil & gas industry creates an estimated 150 billion barrels of produced water each year that must be put somewhere. Current practices for dealing with produced water cost industry at least
$75 billion per year. It is by far the largest volume, at 98%, of the entire waste stream generated by the oil & gas industry.

What are the options for dealing with produced water?

In the U.S., the solutions in play can be broadly divided into four methods:
1. Class II injection wells: common practice but the pressure from these operations has created formation slippage (earthquakes) in certain areas and the produced water is a lost resource
2. Surface disposal ponds: produced water is transported to large open evaporation ponds. The water evaporates but volatile organics are released into the air and evaporation leaves behind toxic sludge.
3. Clean for reuse in ‘fracking, well completion, and enhanced oil recovery right at the well pad.
4. Clean for beneficial use in crop and landscape irrigation, for livestock, and even human consumption.

What are the problems with traditional methods of dealing with produced water?

There are three main issues:
1. The option of trucking it away from the site of its origin and then disposing it elsewhere is expensive for industry. Cleaning it for reuse can be considerably cheaper and additional water resources would be gained.
2. Disposing of produced water in evaporation ponds is a less than a satisfactory solution because:
– It consumes large quantities of land that could be put to use for agriculture, open space, recreation, and housing.
– Evaporation ponds can and do leak into groundwater for drinking and agriculture.
– The water is trucked to evaporation ponds, creating air pollution and damage to our state’s highways.

3. Traditional treatment methods are not suitable for dealing with produced water; they are not effective and cost too much for industry to bear.

What is hydraulic fracturing ('fracking)?

“Fracking” is an abbreviation for Hydraulic Fracturing. Fracking is using a liquid (mostly water) as a carrier for sand, that forces open fissures in subterranean rocks. In the oil and gas industry fracking is done in wells which are drilled vertically hundreds to thousands of feet below the land surface and today often include horizontal or directional sections extending thousands of feet.

What happens to 'frack water when it comes back up?

What becomes of the water used throughout the whole fracking process depends upon several factors: what the local regulations are, whether the water can be used again on site by the drilling company, the cost of transporting the water offsite, what opportunities exist for reuse, and the cost of cleaning it for reuse.

Water that will not be reused is often reinjected into the ground. Often it is sent via truck or pipeline to water disposal sites, where it is stored in tanks or in open-air disposal pits. In open-air disposal pits, the water evaporates and contaminants are left at the bottom of the pit. 

What can we do to combat water scarcity and improve water security?

We can manage our water better: take better care of our water resources, clean up the water that mankind has polluted, and improve upon current water purification technologies clean water access systems.

For example: in developing countries, 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply.* Many pollutants in industrial wastes, and those in water produced by mining and oil & gas operations, have been proven to cause immediate illnesses and chronic illnesses, birth defects, and immediate or eventual death in human populations. These pollutants have also affected crops and livestock, frequently destroying both.

This practice of dumping industrial, mining and oil & gas wastes and “produced water” from those processes should be eliminated and the polluted water should be cleaned up.

What is Fracking?

“Fracking” is an abbreviation for Hydraulic Fracturing and its generally associated with the extraction of oil and/or gas. It is the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure. In the oil and gas industry fracking is done in wells which are drilled vertically hundreds to thousands of feet below the land surface and today often include horizontal or directional sections extending thousands of feet.

Why has the fossil fuel industry adopted this practice?

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What is the role of water in a fracked well?

The water initially utilized in hydraulic fracturing is derived from local sources: surface or well. The amount of water that will be used depends on the formation, depth, and type of drilling (e.g. vertical, horizontal, directional).

This water is mixed with a number of ingredients to create the hydraulic fracturing fluid. One of the most important additives to the water is sand that is pumped into the fractures to prop the cracks open and prevent them from sealing back up after the high pressure is released. This “fracking fluid” is then injected at high pressure through the steel production pipe that has been cemented into the formation to the location that needs to be “fractured” so that the gas or oil imbedded in that rock can be released. The sand has sufficient porosity to permit the oil or gas to flow into the production pipe at a rate that can make a well economically productive.

After a satisfactory fracking operation, the high pressure is released and fluids can be extracted from the well. At first, “frack flowback” comes back up from the well to the surface. This flowback contains fracking fluid, which can be 3% to 80% or more of the total flowback, mixed with the water, hydrocarbons and other material naturally occurring in the formation.

After the frack flowback has been flushed out of the well, the content of the well production fluid will stabilize at the composition of the natural fluids contained in the formation. Essentially everything extracted by a well will contain varying amounts of water, which is deemed “produced water.” This produced water must be separated from the economically valuable hydrocarbons. The produced water, contaminated with hydrocarbons and minerals from the underground formation, must be reused on site or disposed of as contaminated waste. Discharge of this water into the environment requires extraction of the contaminants, especially the proven or potentially cancerous BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene). These BTEX compounds are what IX Power Clean Water’s OrganiClear technology removes so effectively.

What are the typical steps for drilling a well for fracking?

On the selected site, a deep well is drilled — say 7,700 feet deep, could be more, could be less — and the diameter of this hole (wellbore) is probably 12.2 inches diameter. At the “kick-off point” the hole is then drilled to takes a turn to travel horizontal another 1,000 to 6,000 feet. A steel casing is fitted into the wellbore to protect groundwater & the surrounding area. A layer of cement is poured to fit around the casing for additional protection.

In the horizontal section of the pipe, the casing and cement are perforated with little holes for the fracking fluid to push through. This fracking fluid is introduced at extremely high pressure, anywhere from about 10,000 to 15,000 psi (pounds per square inch). This pressure pushes the water through the perforations at such high pressure that the rock it hits is “fractured.” To achieve the desired amount of fracturing, the procedure takes anywhere from three to ten days.

What else comes back up with the gas?

When the gas or oil comes back up it is frequently mixed with water that contains a variety of materials. Some call this wastewater, some call it produced water. This water must be separated from the fossil fuel resource however, so the oil or gas can be recovered.

What happens to the water – the original fracking fluid, frack flowback, and other waste water or produced water that is involved in fracking a well?

What becomes of the water used throughout the whole fracking process depends upon several factors: what the local regulations are, whether the water can be used again on site by the field services company, the cost of transporting the water offsite, what opportunities exist for reuse, and the cost of cleaning it for reuse.

Water that will not be reused, is often reinjected into the ground near the site. Often it is sent via truck or pipeline to water disposal sites, where it is stored in tanks or in open-air disposal pits. In open-air disposal pits the water evaporates and contaminants are left at the bottom of the pit. Frequently this water is sprayed on roads to cut down on dust.

What is in “fracking fluid?”

There is no standard “recipe” for fracking fluid (aka slick water or slickwater). Every company has their own proprietary solution mix and it can differ from site to site, depending on the composition of the geologic basin that site sits in. However, the website FracFocus provides a good, albeit not 100% perfect, indication of the composition of much of the frack fluid being used today.

Typically, fracking fluid can be comprised of as much as 99.2% water. For fracking shale formations in the U.S., some of the substances that are added to the water to make the solution include: sand to prop open the fissures once the high pressure has ceased, biocides, corrosion inhibitors, scale inhibitors, acid, friction reducers, clay controlling ingredients, gelling agents, crosslinkers and more. Some of the additives in fracking fluid can be found in manufactured household and personal products, and even food products on the shelves of U.S. grocery stores. Other additives are used only in industrial processes.

What is in frack flowback?

Besides the original fluid used for fracturing, flowback can also contain fluids and minerals that were in the fractured formation.

What is in produced water?

Major constituents of produced water are salt, oil and grease, various other natural inorganic and organic compounds, chemical additives used in drilling and fracking, and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

What’s of major concern in produced water is a set of organic yet toxic hydrocarbon compounds known as BTEX – an acronym that stands for Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes, which are closely related. These compounds are soluble in water so produced water from the extraction of crude oil is contaminated with these compounds. Benzene is carcinogenic while Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes have harmful effects on the central nervous system. Frequently found together, the BTEX compounds can cause illness, birth defects, eventual death and even immediate death if highly concentrated. (A separate paper is available on this site about BTEX.) However, produced water does not have to remain toxic. IX Power Clean Water’s OrganiClear™ technology removes 99% of all BTEX.


How much water is used in fracking?

The EPA reports* that water needs per well have been reported to them ranging from 65,000 gallons for coalbed methane (CBM) production up to 13 million gallons for shale gas production, depending on the characteristics of the formation being fractured and the design of the production well and fracturing operation. To put this in perspective, five million gallons of water are equivalent to the water used by approximately 50,000 people for one day.

Keep in mind that hydraulic fracturing fluids are usually water-based, with approximately 90% of the injected fluid composed of water.

Where does the water come from?

The source of the water may vary, but the water used in fracking is typically ground water, surface water, or treated wastewater.

Where is fracking being done in the U.S.?

It was also estimated as of March 1, 2014, that the only states where fracking has not taken place is Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont & Wisconsin.

Where is most of the fracking taking place?

As of the spring of 2014, the states with the most fracked wells included Texas, Pennsylvania, Kansas, New Mexico, and Louisiana, and Colorado. For example, over 84,000 wells had been fracked in Colorado by that time.

What is “FracFocus?”

FracFocus is the national hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure registry. It is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission. The site was created to provide the public access to reported chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing within their area. To help users put this information into perspective, the site also provides objective information on hydraulic fracturing, the chemicals used, the purposes they serve and the means by which groundwater is protected. Note however that FracFocus does not deal with issues unrelated to chemicals such as NORM – Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material.

FracFocus is not intended to argue either for or against the use of hydraulic fracturing as a technology. It is also not intended to provide a scientific analysis of risk associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Where can you find FracFocus?

It is available on the Internet at https://fracfocus.org.

Does FracFocus provide reliable information?

It’s probably the most accurate information that is widely available. More than a million wells may be have been fracked already and as of February 1, 2015, FracFocus had data on 91,127 of them.

All data in FracFocus are entered by oil and gas companies that have agreed to “disclose the information in the public interest” (GWPC, 2012b). The Ground Water Protection Council, the organization that administers the registry, makes no specific claim about data quality in FracFocus. The EPA notes that there is considerable variability in the posted data because they are uploaded by many different companies, including operator and service companies. Although FracFocus uses some built-in QA checks during the data upload process, several data quality issues are not addressed by these protocols.

In its latest report on fracking, released in 2012, the EPA has said, “The data (in FracFocus) cannot be assumed to be a complete or statistically representative of all hydraulically fractured wells. However, because FracFocus contains several thousands of well disclosures distributed throughout the United States, the EPA believes that the data in FracFocus are generally indicative of hydraulic fracturing activities during the time period covered. Therefore, it may be possible to find geographic patterns of occurrence or usage, including volume of water, frequency of chemical usage, and amounts of chemicals used, assuming that data in FracFocus meet quality requirements.

In short, while FracFocus is not perfect, it does offer data that can be used to get a general picture of the fracking industry in the U.S. and what chemicals and substances have been used in fracking thus far.

While FracFocus is not intended to replace or supplant any state governmental information systems it is being used by a number of states as a means of official state chemical disclosure. Currently, 16 states use FracFocus in this manner. An example of one of these is Colorado, which requires chemical disclosure via FracFocus.

How long has the fracking method for extracting fossil fuels been in use?

The first time that what would come to called “fracking” was tried was during the Civil War, but like the idea of submarines, it was shelved for many years. About 65 years ago fracking got a restart, and there has been a substantial increase in the number of fracked wells since 2000.

Was any other fluid besides water ever considered for fracking?

Yes, a variety of gels and foams have been tried over the years and even napalm and gasoline. Jet fuel was even tried in lieu of water at one time until 8 workers were killed trying to use it at a site. For a long time, even nuclear explosions were implemented to try to frack wells. Today, in the state of Tennessee, nitrogen gas is the main ingredient they frack with. It is said that nitrogen gas works better in the state’s particular geologic formations.

What’s the story behind using nuclear to frack wells?

From 1961 to 1973, the U.S. experimented with inserting nuclear bombs into a few wells in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada to increase natural gas production. These experiments were conducted under a “Plowshare” peaceful-use-of-nuclear program by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (which was later replaced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.) The explosions they created were two to three times the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The experiments were considered successful, but the $82 million program was canceled for environmental & economic concerns.

Q. Does fracking cause earthquakes?

Not likely. Many in the seismology community believe that it would be extremely difficult to frack a well and cause an earthquake. It could only occur in very specific conditions. Fracking doesn’t create new faults, but it could activate faults that weren’t known about before.

The journal “Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.” reports that the publicized earthquake events that have occurred could be due to what happens after fracking. Companies that pump massive amounts of wastewater back underground can lubricate stone-on-stone stress, unleashing a pent-up earthquake that was due to occur anyway. Those that have studied the issue believe a much stronger correlation exists between the post-fracking wastewater-disposal process and earthquakes, but to blame the fracking procedure is not accurate. The solution may not lie in stopping fracking, but rather in ceasing the injection of wastewater (produced water).

So what should we be concerned about?

Of most concern in produced water is the family of organic compounds known as BTEX. This acronym stands for Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes, which are closely related. These compounds are soluble in water, so produced water from the extraction of crude oil is always contaminated with these compounds.

What health impacts are attributed to BTEX exposure?

Benzene is carcinogenic, while Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes have harmful effects on the central nervous system of humans and animals. Frequently found together, the BTEX compounds are proven to cause cancer and other diseases, birth defects, eventual death and even immediate death with exposure to high concentrations.

What’s the history of produced water?

Produced water became a concern when it was understood what dangerous elements were in it. In the early days of the industry, oil companies just dumped it wherever they could. Outside of the U.S.A. this practice continues today with oil rigs dumping produced water into the ocean, and into surface waters wherever they can, and wherever government fines do not equal the cost of accepted disposal methods.

How much produced water is being generated?

It is commonly known that for every barrel of oil, anywhere from 1 to 50 barrels of produced water are generated. (1 barrel = 42 gallons) Worldwide, the oil & gas industry creates an estimated 150 billion barrels of produced water each year that must be put somewhere. Current practices for dealing with produced water cost industry at least $75 billion per year. It is by far the largest volume, at 98%, of the entire waste stream generated by the oil & gas industry.

What are the options for dealing with produced water?

In the U.S., the solutions in play an be broadly divided into four methods:
1. Class II injection wells: common practice but the pressure from these operations has created formation slippage (earthquakes) in certain areas and the produced water is a lost resource
2. Surface disposal ponds: produced water is transported to large open evaporation ponds. The water evaporates but volatile organics are released into the air and evaporation leaves behind toxic sludge.
3. Clean for reuse in ‘fracking, well completion, and enhanced oil recovery right at the well pad.
4. Clean for beneficial use in crop and landscape irrigation, for livestock, and even human consumption.

What are the problems with traditional existing methods of dealing with produced water?

There are three main issues:
1. The option of trucking it away from the site of its origin and then disposing it elsewhere is expensive for industry. Cleaning it for reuse can be considerably cheaper and additional water resources would be gained.
2. Disposing of produced water in evaporation ponds is a less than satisfactory solution because:
– It consumes large quantities of land that could be put to use for agriculture, open space, recreation and housing.
– Evaporation ponds can and do leak into groundwater for drinking and agriculture.
– The water is trucked to evaporation ponds, creating air pollution and damage to our state’s highways.

What is the ratio of the desired resource (oil or gas) to produced water from a typical well? Your Title Goes Here

For each barrel of oil recovered, 1 to 50 times as much water is produced, creating the adage that “oil recovery is really water recovery with a bit of oil thrown in.” In fact, produced water accounts for 98% of the waste products in the oil & gas industry, and costs industry nearly $75 billion each year.

Oil and gas companies spend an estimated $75 billion cleaning and/or disposing of produced water.

How much money do oil and gas companies spend on produced water management?

Each year, in order to comply with local, state, provincial, and federal environmental laws, oil and gas companies spend an estimated $40 billion cleaning and/or disposing of produced water. Costs include transportation, pre-treatment, re-injection, and desalination, and vary widely depending upon the water’s properties, volume, and geographic location. Typical handling costs range from $2 to $10 per barrel of water, and can run as high as $15 per barrel, creating a total global addressable market of US$ 110 million per day.

What regions would benefit most from having their produced water cleaned?

Everywhere. Regions where water scarcity and oil & gas production intersect e.g. the Southwest United States, the Middle East, Africa, and China, are particularly important.

As water becomes more scarce across out world, the need to treat produced water will become far greater.

What is “Found” Water and what can be done with produced water that has been cleaned?

“Found” water is usable water that is created, or found, by cleaning “produced” water from oil and gas production that would have normally been discarded as wastewater. “Found water” is a new water resource that can be used for agriculture, livestock and community water systems. Crop/food production in arid regions could be increased substantially by using “found” water created by cleaning “produced” water from local oil & gas operations, mining or other industry. In short, “found” water from “produced” water could help the global “water security” problem which in turn would help the global “food security” problem. (See additional FAQ entries on Food Security.)

What is IX Power Clean Water developing to create clean “found” water from “produced” water?

IX Power Clean Water (IX PCW) is currently refining and commercializing an already-proven technology created by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that will change how the world manages produced water from the oil & gas industry, mining industry and manufacturing. As part of a water treatment train, this new technology eliminates the organic hydrocarbons (BTEX) in produced water, enabling the water to be cleaned to the point that it can be safely used for agriculture, livestock and community water systems.

Who regulates fracking?

The fracking industry is regulated by each individual state, with a limited amount of federal oversight.

What is the EPA’s role in regulating fracking?

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) does not regulate fracking per se. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the injection of fracking fluids is not regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act unless diesel fuel is being injected.

However, the EPA’s Office of Water is allowed to regulate the waste disposal of flowback. Disposal of flowback into interstate surface waters is regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The NPDES regulates and issues permits to companies discharging pollutants into U.S. waters through industrial, municipal ditches and pipes and other such point sources. The states themselves have varying levels of authority to administer the NPDES. For example, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are only partially authorized.** Colorado has an approved NPDES permit program but does not have its own federally approved state pretreatment program or an NPDES approved biosoils (sludge) pretreatment program for releasing fluids into surface waters.

Why is the EPA now looking into the impact of fracking on water resources?

The EPA has stated it is interested in fracking because its use is becoming more prevalent. This is due to many factors including advances in horizontal drilling technologies and new fluid formulations that improve economics, and new access to different formations (shale, coalbeds, tight sands). The EPA is taking a hard look at fracking because “unconventional” gas, which is what most fracking is performed to reach, is perceived to represent a significant future domestic energy source. So, fracking isn’t going away anytime soon!

Because fracking has become so prevalent, the EPA wants to investigate the potential for endangerment of water supplies. The EPA wants to understand the impact of fracking on the many new and different geographic and geologic settings that are being approached. Formations adjacent to fracking sites may contain metals, radionuclides, salts, or other constituents that may be mobilized and impact water quality without careful procedures. The EPA wants to ensure that fracking chemicals, water, wastes and residuals from this type of drilling do not impose risks to public health, water resources or the environment.

What is the genesis of this study?

The US House of Representatives requested that the EPA conduct scientific research to examine the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources (USHR, 2009). The study began in 2011 and with its efforts the EPA is working to better characterize the amounts and sources of water currently being used for hydraulic fracturing operations, including recycled water, and how these withdrawals may impact local drinking water quality and availability.

What are the main areas of the EPA’s study?

he EPA is looking at the following areas of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

• Water acquisition: What are the possible impacts of large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface waters on drinking water resources?
• Chemical mixing: What are the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing fluid surface spills on or near well pads on drinking water resources?
• Well injection: What are the possible impacts of the injection and fracturing process on drinking water resources?
• Flowback and produced water: What are the possible impacts of flowback and produced water (collectively referred to as “hydraulic fracturing wastewater”) surface spills on or near well pads on drinking water resources?
• Wastewater treatment and waste disposal: What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewater on drinking water resources?

What is STRONGER?

STRONGER, is an acronym for State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations. STRONGER was formed in 1999 to reinvigorate and carry forward the state review process begun cooperatively in 1988 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC).

STRONGER is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization whose purpose is to assist states in documenting the environmental regulations associated with the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas. STRONGER shares innovative techniques and environmental protection strategies and identifies opportunities for program improvement. The state review process is a non-regulatory program and relies on states to volunteer for reviews.

U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy have provided grant funding to STRONGER to support its activities. The American Petroleum Institute has also provided no-strings attached funding to support the state review process. STRONGER invites participation in the state review process. They seek volunteers from both states and interested citizens. They also invite inquiries about the process and the concepts of direct evaluation of environmental regulatory performance. www.strongerinc.org

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