Energy Exchange

New Mexico oil and gas rules put water resources, communities at risk. Here’s how they can be improved.

By Jon Goldstein and Dan Mueller

Water is New Mexico’s most precious and limited resource, but new rules proposed by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission (NMOCC) fall short in efforts to better protect it.

In the face of increasing temperatures and shrinking water supplies, the state needs to be doing more – not less – to safeguard its future health and prosperity. That means strengthening the rules that protect land and water resources from the negative impacts of oil and gas operations. Read More »

Also posted in Natural Gas, New Mexico, produced water, Water / Comments are closed

Why drinking water standards are the wrong standards for oil and gas wastewater

“It’s so clean I’d drink it.”

Travel to any recent conference or trade show on produced water management and there’s a good chance you’ll hear this line or something similar. I’ve heard it myself, alongside claims that a patented treatment delivers water that’s “fresh” or “meets drinking water standards.”

This sort of talk is on the rise as operators and regulators look for ways to reuse produced water both inside and outside of the oilfield. Some of these uses carry real risks to human health and the environment from chemicals that may be present—even after treatment. At first blush, if the product can be called “fresh” or meets drinking water standards, it doesn’t sound risky. So why the worry? The reality is that these statements tell us very little about the quality of treated produced water.

“Fresh” from a scientific perspective, means next to nothing. And drinking water standards are simply the wrong standards to apply to produced water, or for that matter any treated wastewater – industrial or municipal. Here’s why.

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Could wastewater from oil and gas production help solve our water crisis? Not without better science

Climate change is drastically raising demands on the world’s fresh water supplies, and as a result, governments, scientists, and others are actively searching for new ways to manage and preserve our water resources.

One consideration includes repurposing wastewater generated from on-shore oil and gas development, which produces a whopping 900 billion gallons of water annually in the U.S. alone.

Some proponents of this option believe produced water may be a massive opportunity for water-scarce regions. Researchers at the University of Texas suggest recycling produced water for hydraulic fracturing operations could help address anticipated water shortage problems in the Permian Basin. Recycling wastewater within the oilfield is a viable option – as long as the spill and leaks, which can have significant and long-lasting negative impacts on soil and water resources, are minimized.

However, uses beyond the oilfield are much riskier if we don’t answer some critical questions first.

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Six ways oil and gas development can contaminate land and water (and what to do about it)

By Adam Peltz and Nichole Saunders

As oil and gas production increases, so does the risk of toxic waste leaking to the environment. The massive amount of briny wastewater generated from oil and gas development can cause serious damage if it comes into contact with the public or our environment.

Consider what happened to the Johnsons, a 4th generation ranching family in New Mexico. More than 400,000 gallons of wastewater spilled on their ranch leaving a dead zone no longer viable to raise cattle or grow crops. Read More »

Also posted in Natural Gas, produced water / Comments are closed

Getting dangerously creative with oil and gas wastewater

Look before you leap – why learning more about oilfield wastewater is critical to reducing health and safety risks.

The oil and gas industry has a massive wastewater problem. And if the growing dialogue about new ways of dealing with it are any indication, it may get worse if we aren’t careful.

Cost concerns, pressure to conserve water, and other factors have led some oil and gas companies to consider new ways to manage or repurpose wastewater – including using it to irrigate crops. That could create more problems than it solves.

Managing the massive amount of oil and gas wastewater has been a challenge for energy companies for generations. Some wells produce up to 10 times more wastewater than oil. In the United States, companies produce nearly 900 billion gallons of wastewater a year. That’s enough to fill over 1,000 football stadiums.

Ongoing Risks

Oil and gas wastewater is often many times saltier than sea water – and can ruin soil for generations if large amounts spill or leak during storage or transport.  In fact, landowners with a long history of oil and gas production on their lands know that a wastewater spill can cause much more long term damage to their land than an oil spill. Read More »

Also posted in Natural Gas, produced water, Water / Read 1 Response

New study reveals gaps in the methods used to assess chemicals in oilfield wastewater

A new study led by researchers with Colorado School of Mines exposes limitations with the current methods used to detect chemicals in oilfield wastewater and offers solutions to help regulators make better decisions for managing this waste stream.

Oilfield wastewater is extremely salty and can contain multiple combinations of many potentially harmful chemicals (approximately 1600 on a national basis). However, most standard or approved analytical methods available to regulators were designed to work with fresh water. Because oil and gas wastewater is so salty—sometimes 10 times saltier than seawater or more—chemists often have to dilute wastewater samples to manage the high salt content.

This means they may also be diluting chemicals of concern to concentrations too low to detect, even though they may be present at risky levels. For example, benzene is a chemical associated with petroleum hydrocarbons and a known carcinogen. It also has a drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion – that’s 5 cents in 10 million dollars. It really doesn’t take much dilution of a sample to lose that level of precision. Read More »

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