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Study: Oil, Gas Industry Needs to Step Up Water Management

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Study: Oil, Gas Industry Needs to Step Up Water Management

The oil and gas industry needs to step up efforts to expand its use of recycled water and non-freshwater resources and implement better water management planning if shale energy production is to expand according to projections.

Research conducted by San Francisco-based CERES indicates that nearly 47 percent of wells were developed in water basins with high or extremely high water stress. Most of the hydraulic fracturing activity in the United States is occurring in Texas and Colorado, which are experiencing prolonged drought conditions.

The report is based on well drilling and water use data from FracFocus.org and water stress indicator maps developed by the World Resources Institute. The research was based on FracFocus’ data on 25,450 wells in operation from January 2011 through September 2012.

Ninety-two percent of Colorado wells analyzed in the report are in extremely high water stress regions. In Texas, which accounts for nearly half of the total wells analyzed, 51 percent of the wells were in high or extremely high water stress regions. Water use in hydraulic fracturing in some Texas counties accounted for over 20 percent of the region's total water use. Concerns over water usage for hydraulic fracturing in Texas prompted legislators to mandate water recycling in the oil and gas industry.

Seventy percent of the wells analyzed in Pennsylvania were in medium to high water stress water basins and only 2 percent were in high water stress basins.

"Given projected sharp increases in shale oil and gas production in the coming years, competition over water should be a growing concern to energy companies," CERES concluded in the report, noting that hydraulically fractured oil and gas production is expected to double in the coming years. "Shale energy development cannot grow without water, but in order to do so the industry's water needs and impacts need to be better understood, measured and managed."

The industry has made progress in increasing its use of recycled water and other alternative water sources for fracturing wells, including non-freshwater alternatives such as wastewater, saline water, seawater and acid-mine drainage. But overall water recycling and use of non-freshwater sources must rise considerably to have a significant impact.

Key recommendations by CERES for companies and regulators include:

  • Comprehensive mandatory disclosure by companies of how much freshwater, non-freshwater and recycled water they are using region by region as well as how much water is returning to the surface and where it is ending up
  • Requirements for companies to set quantifiable water use targets, such as recycling and non-freshwater use targets
  • Ensure that companies and local regulators are conducting sufficient water management planning
  • Ensure companies have a local stakeholder engagement process in place on water issues

The U.S. oil and gas industry's increased exploration and production of U.S. unconventional resources has increased the amount of water being used by the oil and gas industry in its operations.

Best practices for water management in unconventional exploration and production activity are still evolving as companies address water use management issues such as the cost of transporting water to drilling sites, whether to treat or dispose of water, and concerns by environmental groups, state officials and the U.S. public over the amount of water used and the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water supply in shale regions.

A number of water treatment processes are also becoming available to the oil and gas industry, including EcoLogix and EcoSphere, which Rigzone reported on last year.



Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com.

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