Water in Energy: Seismicity, water shortages are catalysts for produced water progress

CBA 7 • March 8, 2024 • by Hannah Brock

Dr. Zac Hildencrand at Water in Energy Conference, 20223

Highlight: Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand, the chief scientific officer at Infinity Water Solutions, emphasized the pressing need for regulatory frameworks to facilitate the widespread adoption of produced water reuse technologies. Despite the existence of effective technologies to clean produced water, the lack of clear regulations and commercial incentives hampers broader implementation.

MIDLAND, Texas (KOSA) – The final day of the Permian Basin Water in Energy Conference brought another set of water management discussions.

Excitement about possibilities for reusing produced water generated interest from about 500 professionals at the Bush Convention Center in Midland. Hosted by the University of Texas Permian Basin, the annual conference addresses responsible water use in the oil and gas industry.

This year’s discussions focus heavily on produced water. That’s the estimated 11 million barrels of salty, polluted oilfield wastewater that comes to the surface with production every day.

Most conference conversations surround progress. In the case of produced water, agricultural water shortages and injection-related earthquake concerns push progress forward.

When it comes to seismicity, attorney Paul Tough says companies that voluntarily share produced water data can help regulators like the Railroad Commission address the issue.

The future of the oil and gas industry will be affected by conversations like these.

“If you’re going to be here, you’re usually working towards a common goal and that is making sure that the industry can still be sustainable, but understand there are some challenges,” Tough said.

Water shortages are also bringing farmers and ranchers to the table, according to commissioner Sid Miller of the Texas Department of Agriculture.

“We have just about quit growing Pecos cantaloupes here in the Permian Basin because we’re out of water,” Miller said. “This would allow that industry to come back. [The] Permian Basin is ideally situated to grow alfalfa. We can grow really good alfalfa out here, but it takes water which we don’t have. So this reuse water gives us hope that we can expand our farming operations.”

Produced water reuse could also reduce industry dependence on fresh water, as well as create a new water source. Supporters of this concept want to transform produced water liabilities into assets.

Panels also featured research that shows effective technology exists to clean the water.

“We don’t see widespread adoption of this because we don’t have regulations to actually put this on crops, or put it in the Pecos River, or replenish an aquifer,” said Zacariah Hildenbrand, chief scientific officer at Infinity Water Solutions.

There are pilot projects seeing success and making discoveries. However, without rules, there’s a lack of incentive to commercialize.

“So think of it as a game, right? I mean, who is going to invest large amounts of capital to potentially play in the game? We don’t know what the rules of the game are. We don’t know when the game starts,” Hildenbrand said.

Companies need permits and clear pathways for progress to put pilots into practice.

There’s also a stigma to overcome. When considering the water’s origin, people are hesitant. Miller says that’s understandable.

“You kind of might think it has too many contaminants in it, but we have to gain the confidence of the public to show them that, hey, if we can clean up toilet water and use it, we can clean this up pretty easy,” Miller said.

The current focus isn’t treating the water for drinking water. Instead, the point is to keep the water in the water cycle.

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