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Oilfield Water Recycling: Good for the environment but not the bank account

Jerod Foster

Standing on a sprawling ranch where drilling rigs, cranes and bobbing stripper wells form a makeshift skyline, Jimmy Davis is not thinking solely about sucking up oil. It is not the only precious liquid that is pumped from under the land that he manages according to a recent article in the Texas Tribune.

“We’re trying to preserve what we have for future generations,” Davis, the operations manager for Fasken Oil and Ranch, said about collecting clean water. Though required in abundance for oil and gas production, it is increasingly hard to find in drought-scorched Texas, where water use by drillers has come under increasing scrutiny.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, laces water with sand and chemicals for use during the oil drilling process. Fasken pipes more than 330,000 gallons of the resulting wastewater each day through an on-site recycling system. Negatively charged waste in the water reacts with positively charged ions in the metal pipes, so the undesirable materials settle out and leave clean water that can be used for another hydraulic fracture.

Fasken now recycles close to half of the water it uses for fracking, Davis said. But the process is still experimental and it is a money-loser for the company, adding about $70,000 to the cost of handling the 1.9 million gallons of water needed for each hydraulic fracture.

Fasken can get fresh groundwater at virtually no cost under the 165,000 acres of ranch that the company owns, and an underground piping system takes it straight to the mineral well.  Davis said most other operators pay low prices for freshwater, some around one cent per gallon.

As the drought takes its toll on resources, more companies are considering water recycling, and state officials are trying to make that transition easier.

Despite those factors, recycling is far from a mainstream practice among oil and gas drillers because of the associated costs and the prevalence of disposal wells.

The rest of the story can be found here.