Energy Exchange

Selected tag(s): produced water

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 »

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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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Three key takeaways from Ground Water Protection Council’s latest report on oil and gas regulations

Aerial footage shows the footprint of oil and gas development across the U.S. landscape.

A recent report is helping shine a spotlight on three emerging issues facing the oil and gas industry and the agencies that regulate development practices.

The triennial report, funded by a consortium of government, industry and nonprofit stakeholders including EDF, was developed by the Ground Water Protection Council, an organization of state regulators working to protect the nation’s groundwater resources. The report surveys 300+ water protection strategies from 27 state oil and gas agencies. It evaluates how those strategies have evolved over time and identifies key issues for policymakers to consider going forward.

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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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Scientists Question Risks of Using Oilfield Wastewater on Food Crops

The engineers and scientists who study the oil and gas industry’s wastewater know the term “beneficial reuse” well. It’s the seldom-used technique of taking wastewater produced from an oil or gas well, treating it, and then using it for other purposes — like watering crops (including organic crops) or feeding livestock.  It’s a rare practice that drought-stricken areas like California have used for a number of years, although little is known about associated health or safety risks since, usually, about 98% of wastewater is injected into disposal wells deep underground. However, as demands for water increase, and concerns about disposal wells (which have been linked to earthquakes) rise, beneficial reuse is being considered as a viable option.

But just because we can use wastewater for other purposes – does that mean we should? Read More »

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Want to know the leading cause of oil & gas spills? So do we.

A crude oil spill on a wetland in Mountrail County, North Dakota. Photo source: US Fish and Wildlife Service

A crude oil spill on a wetland in Mountrail County, North Dakota.
Photo source: US Fish and Wildlife Service

When the oil and gas industry spills or leaks harmful fluids – whether toxic oil or chemical-laden wastewater – the damage to local ecosystems can last for decades.

Understanding the most common causes of accidental releases could help stakeholders take corrective measures to avoid them. Unfortunately, many regulators don’t collect and make transparent critical information about how many accidents are happening, and what causes them. Read More »

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