RRC: Energy Companies Reducing Water Use, Leading Conservation Efforts

Amid continued drought-like conditions across much of Texas, the state’s oil and gas industry is turning out to be an unlikely leader in the area of water conservation, wrote Christi Craddick, a commissioner at the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), in a June 26 article.

The praise comes just over a year after a study by California-based CERES indicating that nearly 47 percent of wells were in water basins that were under stress from droughts. The fact that the oil and gas industry is helping to solve the water crisis might at first seem counter-intuitive, given the industry’s reliance of water for hydraulic fracturing in shale formations in a number of states across the country. However, those within the industry realize there is much to be gained from using as little water as possible in fracking operations.

The amount of water used in oil and gas and mining operations amounts to 1 percent of the total water that is used in Texas, according to recent data by the Texas Water Development Board. That is less water than any other category of water user in the Board’s Water Use Survey.

To put water use of the industry into perspective, agriculture irrigation takes up 61 percent of all water used, while a combination of municipal use, manufacturing, water for steam in electric power production, and water for livestock use totals 38 percent, the Texas Water Board said.

In the short time that hydraulic fracturing has been done on a widespread and regular basis, the oil and gas industry in Texas has successfully begun water recycling technology in its production processes, Craddick said. For example, the industry had become a leader in desalination technology that could offer a way to lower the cost of converting salt water into fresh water for applications around the world. Energy producers in Texas are also adopting filtration or heat distilling processes that allow the reuse of up to 80 percent of returned fracture fluids that are generally unusable due to high salt content, and some companies have developed closed-loop production systems that rely solely on recycled water, Craddick said.

Oil and gas producers around the state of Texas recently gave credit to the RRC’s amending of rules that were enacted in 2013 for helping conservation efforts in the state, and for increasing the economic viability of enhancing water-recycling efforts.  

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