Alarmist Headline by Activist Outlet Lacks Context on Produced Water

A new analysis by Inside Climate News attempting to quantify produced water spills in Texas should be viewed with a heavy dose of caution. The analysis lacks a clear methodology, makes misleading assumptions without context, ignores industry best practices, and was authored by an activist outlet with a history of anti-fracking biases. 

Inside Climate News (ICN) is a well-known anti-fossil fuel outlet that has repeatedly targeted the oil and natural gas industry. ICN played a central role in perpetuating the failed “Exxon Knew” narrative that continues to attack American energy producers and is funded by a “who’s who” of anti-energy activists including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Heinz Endowment, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and more.  

Here’s a few important things to keep in mind when reading ICN’s analysis: 

Fact: More than 99 percent of produced water in the Permian Basin has not been spilled over the last decade. 

While the industry strives to avoid spills, incidents can occur periodically. But ICN’s claims that the industry has spilled 148 million gallons of water in Texas over the last decade lack important context.  

The Permian Basin produces 14 million barrels of produced water a day or 5.1 billion barrels in a year. ICN’s estimated 148 million gallons would be about 3 percent of a year’s worth of Permian-produced water. But the outlet’s estimate is over 10 years – or about 0.3 percent. 

In other words, 99.7 percent of produced water has been safely managed in the Permian Basin over the last decade.  

Fact: Most spills have been contained with limited or no impacts to the surrounding environment. 

ICN gives the impression that all spills have been environmental disasters that cause permanent damage to communities and the environment, despite acknowledging that there have only been 19 incidents over the last decade that are considered significant – spills exceeding 500,000 gallons. According to ICN, the oil and gas industry has documented 10,000 spills since 2013.  

ICN’s data show that 99.81 percent of the spills over the last decade have been manageable and mitigated before they can become a significant event.  

Fact: ICN’s own chart shows the industry has gotten better about mitigating produced water spills. 

The article ignores industry best practices that have improved water usage, spill-rates, and the overall sustainability of operations over the last decade, even though ICN’s own analysis shows how spills have diminished consistently since 2013.  

Both the number of spills and water released have been reduced by more than half since 2013. Similarly, the ratio between spilled water and water recovered, has also increased in the last decade, with over half of the alleged spills documented by ICN having been recovered.  

A growing trend across the country, including in the Permian Basin, is to recycle the produced water from previous wells to be used in future wells, which is beneficial for both the environment and surrounding communities. In fact, the Texas Produced Water Consortium reported to the Texas Legislature in 2022 that 11 million of the 14 million barrels of produced water produced daily in the Permian Basin is being reused by the industry.  

B3 Insight’s Kelly Bennett also recently explained: 

“In fact, 2023 is likely to be the first year Permian Basin operators use more produced water in completions than water sourced from fresh or brackish sources. This marks an important, seemingly overlooked, milestone in the oil and gas industry’s efforts to advance sustainability and resource stewardship goals.” (emphasis added) 

Increased produced water recycling is also helping reduce the distance that produced water needs to be transported, which decreases the risk of spills, and a growing network of water pipelines is enabling operators to use less trucks to transport this produced water, reducing the risk of accidental spills even further. As XRI CEO Matthew Gabrial explained about his company’s Evolution Pipeline System: 

“The project is a win-win-win for the industry, community, and environment.” 

Coverage of the ICN analysis attempts to paint the picture of an industry without strict regulations – but these notable advancements and innovations speak to the industry’s willingness to proactively improve environmental and safety standards.   

Bottom Line: An alarmist headline from Inside Climate News is just that: alarmist. In reality, ICN left out key context and data that shows that the oil and gas industry takes great measures to act responsibly in its operations, including by managing water used and protecting the environment.  

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