Texas Study Finds ‘Massive Amount’ of Toxic Wastewater Related To Extraction

Via Inside Climate News, a reminder of the heavy watergy impact of oil and gas extraction in Texas’ arid Permian Basin

Oil and gas extraction in the Permian Basin of arid West Texas is expected to produce some 588 million gallons of wastewater per day for the next 38 years, according to findings of a state-commissioned study group—three times as much as the oil it produces. 

The announcement from the Texas Produced Water Consortium came two days before it was due to release its findings on potential recycling of oilfield wastewater.   

“It’s a massive amount of water,” said Rusty Smith, the consortium’s executive director, addressing the Texas Groundwater Summit in San Antonio on Tuesday. 

But making use of that so-called “produced water” still remains well beyond the current reach of state authorities, he said. 

Lawmakers in Texas, the nation’s top oil and gas producer, commissioned the Produced Water Consortium in February 2021, following similar efforts in other oil-producing states to study how produced water, laced with toxic chemicals, can be recycled into local water supplies. 

The Texas study focused on the Permian Basin, the state’s top oil-producing zone, where years of booming population growth have severely stretched water supplies and planners forecast a 20 billion gallon per year deficit by year 2030. 

The consortium’s first challenge, Smith told an audience in San Antonio, was to calculate the quantity of produced water in the Permian. A nationwide study in 2017 identified Texas as the nation’s top source of produced water but didn’t consider specific regions. 

It’s a tricky figure to compute because Texas doesn’t require regular reporting of produced water quantities. The consortium based its estimates on annual 24-hour-sampling of wastewater production and monthly records of wastewater disposal. 

“There’s just a lack of data, so it’s an estimate,” said Dan Mueller, senior manager with the Environmental Defense Fund in Texas, which is part of the consortium. 

Their estimate—about 170 billions of gallons per year—equals nearly half the yearly water consumption in New York City. 

That quantity creates steep logistical and economic challenges to recycling—an expensive process that renders half the original volume as concentrated brine which would have to be permanently stored. 

“It’s a massive amount of salt,” Smith said. “We’d essentially create new salt flats in West Texas and collapse the global salt markets.” 

He estimated that treatment costs of $2.55 to $10 per barrel and disposal costs of $0.70 per barrel would hike up the water price far beyond the average $0.40 per barrel paid by municipal users or $0.03 per barrel paid by irrigators.  

On top of that, distributing the recycled water would require big infrastructure investments—both for high-tech treatment plants and the distribution system to transport recycled water to users in cities and towns. 

“We’re going to need pipelines to move it,” Smith said. “We have quite a gap we need to bridge and figure out how we’re going to make it more economical.”

That is only if produced water in West Texas can be proven safe for consumption when treated. 

Pilot projects for produced water reuse have already taken place in California, where some irrigation districts are watering crops with a partial blend of treated wastewater, despite concerns over potential health impacts. California has banned irrigation with wastewater from fracking, but not wastewater from conventional drilling, even though the two contain similar toxins. Produced water typically contains varying amounts of naturally occurring constituents, including salts, metals, radioactive materials, along with chemical additives. Every region’s produced water will bear different contents, depending on the composition of underground formations. 

Beginning reuse efforts in West Texas, Smith said, will require pilot projects and chemical analysis to determine feasibility. 

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2022 at 7:27 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”