Texas oil and gas industry will produce ‘massive amount’ of toxic wastewater with few reuse options, study finds

Texas oil and gas industry will produce ‘massive amount’ of toxic wastewater with few reuse options, study finds
Texas oil and gas industry will produce ‘massive amount’ of toxic wastewater with few reuse options, study finds

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Oil and gas extraction in the Permian Basin of arid West Texas is expected to produce some 588 million gallons of wastewater per day over the next 38 years, according to the findings of a commissioned study group. by the state – three times more than the oil it produces.

The Texas Produced Water Consortium’s announcement came two days before it released its findings on the potential recycling of oilfield wastewater.

“That’s a huge amount of water,” said Rusty Smith, executive director of the consortium, speaking at the Texas Groundwater Summit in San Antonio on Tuesday.

But the use of this so-called “produced water” still remains far beyond the current reach of state authorities, he said.

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Lawmakers in Texas, the nation’s top oil and gas producer, mandated the Produced Water Consortium in February 2021, following similar efforts in other oil-producing states to study how water produced, mixed to toxic chemicals, can be recycled into local water supplies.

The Texas study focused on the Permian Basin, the state’s main oil-producing area, where years of booming population growth have dramatically stretched water supplies and planners forecast a 20-year deficit. billion gallons per year by 2030.

The consortium’s first challenge, Smith told a San Antonio audience, was to calculate how much water was produced in the Permian. A 2017 national study identified Texas as the nation’s top source of produced water, but did not consider specific regions.

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This is a tricky number to calculate because Texas does not require regular reporting of the amount of water produced. The consortium based its estimates on annual 24-hour sampling of wastewater production and monthly records of wastewater disposal.

“There’s just a lack of data, so it’s an estimate,” said Dan Mueller, senior director of the Environmental Defense Fund in Texas, which is part of the consortium.

Their estimate — about 170 billion gallons per year — equates to almost half of New York’s annual water use.

This amount creates significant logistical and economic challenges for recycling – an expensive process that turns half of the original volume into concentrated brine that would need to be permanently stored.

“That’s a huge amount of salt,” Smith said. “We would basically create new salt flats in West Texas and collapse the global salt markets.”

He estimated that treatment costs of $2.55 to $10 per barrel and disposal costs of $0.70 per barrel would raise the price of water well above the average of $0.40 per barrel. barrel paid by municipal users or $0.03 per barrel paid by irrigators.

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On top of that, distributing the recycled water would require significant infrastructure investment – ​​both for the high-tech treatment plants and the distribution system to transport the recycled water to users in cities and towns. towns.

“We’re going to need pipelines to move it,” Smith said. “We have a big gap to fill and figure out how we’re going to make it more economical.”

Only if water produced in West Texas can be proven safe for consumption when treated.

Pilot projects to reuse produced water have already taken place in California, where some irrigation districts are watering crops with a partial mixture of treated wastewater, despite concerns about potential health impacts. California has banned irrigation with wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, but not with wastewater from conventional boreholes, even though the two contain similar toxins. The water produced generally contains varying amounts of natural salts, metals, radioactive materials, as well as chemical additives. The water produced in each region will have a different content, depending on the composition of the underground formations.

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Beginning reuse efforts in West Texas, Smith said, will require pilot projects and chemical analysis to determine feasibility.

This story is published in partnership with Inside Climate News, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering climate, energy and the environment. Sign up for the ICN newsletter here.

Disclosure: Environmental Defense Fund financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.


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. industry oil gas Texas will produce a massive quantity waste water toxic with few options reuse according to a study

. Texas oil gas industry produce massive amount toxic wastewater reuse options study finds

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