Produced Water

FAQ: Produced Water

A. 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.

A. Major constituents of produced water are:
1. Salt
2. Oil and grease
3. Naturally-occurring radioactive material (NORM)
4. Various naturally-occurring organic (including BTEX) and inorganic compounds (metals)
5. Some of the chemical additives from the fracking water that were not caught in ‘frack flowback.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. 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.

A. “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.)

A. 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.