Produced water is the water that comes to the surface as a byproduct of oil and gas exploration and production. For our purposes it includes native formation water and fluids that are brought to surface during well treatment and hydraulic fracturing. It typically contains elevated levels of salts and has many other constituents such as organics, metals and solids such as Magnesium, Sodium, Barium and others. Oil and gas operations produce more than 900 billion gallons of produced water annually. Measured another way, the produced water generated daily is greater than the volume of water that flows over Niagara falls every hour during peak flow.
Produced Water as a Resource: Identifying Opportunities & Challenges
The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) has developed a multi-stakeholder working group to identify opportunities and challenges associated with utilizing produced water as a resource and to provide suggestions that policy makers, researchers, regulators and others can use to address them.
As freshwater resources have become more constrained, the ability to use produced water to offset freshwater demand both inside and outside of the oilfield will offer opportunities and challenges. Since the early days of oil and gas development, the water brought to the surface as a byproduct of the oil and gas production process has been considered a waste. It was not until the 1930s that some of this “produced water” began to be injected back into producing reservoirs as a means of enhancing oil production. When unconventional oil and gas development began in earnest in the early 2000s, the need for water resources to conduct hydraulic fracturing provided a potential new use for produced water.
The working group consists of state oil and gas and water quality regulatory officials, industry, environmental NGOs, academics and others to develop a report that can be used by policy makers, researchers and regulators to further the goal of conserving freshwater by identifying current practices, research needs, opportunities and challenges for facilitating produced water use instead of fresh water, where possible.
A draft report of the group's findings is expected to be submitted to the GWPC Board of Directors by the end of the first quarter of 2019.