Energy Exchange

Experts weigh in: we need to learn about chemicals in oilfield wastewater before reusing it outside the oilfield

Oil and gas companies are looking for new ways to reuse salty, toxic wastewater — including crop irrigation.

A recent publication of the Air and Waste Management Association (AMWA) contained a number of articles by academia and industry experts about the many challenges of managing the nearly 900 billion gallons of wastewater (also called produced water) generated every year by oil and gas production. This wastewater is not only very salty but also contains a number of chemicals (many toxic) and potentially radioactive material.

The majority of this wastewater is disposed in deep underground wells to minimize the risks of it coming into contact with humans or the environment (though leaks and spills at the surface are still a big concern). But in hope of lowering costs, in recent years industry has been trending toward finding other ways to either dispose of or recycle this waste – in part because demand for water resources is increasing in drought prone areas and because disposal wells have been linked to a rise in earthquakes.

The articles in AWMA’s magazine suggest that recycling oilfield wastewater to complete new wells is the most viable alternative to traditional disposal methods. Definitely more viable than reusing this water in other ways outside oil and gas operations. Read More »

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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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Recycling Wastewater from Oil and Gas Wells Poses Challenges

15636034581_6f13aaccfc_zEach year, the oil and gas industry produces more than 800 billion gallons of wastewater. Coupling the massive volumes of wastewater generated over the life of the well and the millions of gallons of water needed to hydraulically fracture each well, it’s easy to see that oil and gas exploration and production is just as much a water issue as it is an energy issue.

With growing frequency, this huge volume of oil and gas wastewater – which contains hundreds of chemicals resulting from operations as well as underground water that is usually heavily laden with salt and naturally-occurring pollutants – is being recycled, and some groups are pushing for mandatory recycling policies. Sounds great. After all, recycling is good for the environment, right? Read More »

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Lessons From A Toxic Waste Dump

Texas is home to half the oil and gas exploration and production in the United States. Looking out west is the Permian Basin. To the north is the Barnett. Out east is the Haynesville and due south is the Eagle Ford. Oil and gas is a vibrant industry in Texas. Historically it’s been the lifeblood of the state’s economy.  But, as with any industrial development, it comes with its own set of serious risks to the environment. Impacts on our land, air, water and climate that if not managed correctly can have lasting consequences.

As an engineer working on water quality issues and related environmental issues for over 30 years, I’ve seen firsthand the effects of unregulated industrial activity. In 1980, the federal government passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, better known as Superfund. Superfund legislation gave the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to compel the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites in our country, suing those responsible, and even establishing a trust fund to address toxic sites with no known responsible party. In Texas, these sites were the result of decades of industrial development caused by, for example, old lead production plants dating back to the early 1900s, World War II era defense manufacturing and the rise of the petrochemical industry.
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