Report: Recycling Produced Water Will Reduce Texas’s Oil, Gas Freshwater Consumption

Innovation and technological advances are changing the way that Texas’ oil and natural gas producers deal with produced water – water generated during development – according to a new report by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers and co-sponsored by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

As TAEP’s John Tintera, a co-author of the paper, said:

“The same ingenuity and hard work that created the shale revolution is taking Texas’ water reuse and recycling to new heights. With help from our state and federal legislators and regulators, the industry will further embrace produced water recycling and reuse, resulting in positive impacts to our economy, the environment, and national security.”

The report titled, Sustainable Produced Water Policy, Regulatory Framework, and Management in the Texas Oil and Gas Industry: 2019 and Beyond, analyzes the current and future uses of produced water in Texas and offers facts on water usage.

As the report explains, oil and natural gas water management in the United States takes shape in many different forms. Much of the water has typically been sent to disposal wells throughout the country, although new regulations are limiting where these wells can be located. Another option is to treat the water by removing oils and other suspended solids so that it can be used by other industries. The practice that is beginning to be used more frequently in Texas, though, is to recycle this water and reuse it to develop new oil and natural gas wells.

Water recycling has become more common.

Contrary to activists’ claims, water use in oil and natural gas operations is actually very low. A Duke University study found:

“This estimated water use is 0.87% of the total industrial water used in the United States and only 0.04% of the total fresh water use per year in the United States.”

Similarly, the U.S. Government Accountability Office also found these totals to be less than 1 percent of the total water consumed in the United States, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark report explained:

“Cumulatively, hydraulic fracturing uses and consumes billions of gallons of water each year in the United States, but at the national or state scale, it is a relatively small user (and consumer) of water compared to total water use and consumption.”

Produced and recycled water has the potential to reduce that number even further. As Mark Patton, president of oilfield water recycling company Hydrozonix told the Houston Chronicle:

“Encouraging recycling makes sense. Everything you recycle is that much less water that goes into disposal wells. You’re keeping it in the hydrological cycle on the surface for a lot longer.”

More companies in Texas are committing to using recycled water in their operations, and new laws are incentivizing producers to implement this practice more often. The report finds that within the next four years, produced water reuse is expected to increase by nearly 6.5 billion barrels per year.

As Dave Burnett, associate research scientist at Texas A&M University’s Department of Petroleum Engineering, told Rigzone:

“No one is using freshwater aquifers’ groundwater for oil and gas operations. Brackish ground water and recycling and re-use fills the need for shalers.”

This trend has already been popularized in states like Pennsylvania where companies have been recycling and treating produced water since 2008. In fact, between 2008 and 2018 companies recycled and reused around 61 percent of shale produced water, and on average about 90 percent of produced water annually is managed with this method.

Oil and natural gas water recycling is spurring innovation.

Not only does the industry’s ability to reuse produced water provide an often affordable alternative to freshwater, helping to lower overall consumption, it is also driving investment, leading to innovations in desalination and disposal technology.

In Texas, for instance, a company that specializes in oilfield water management opened a facility in San Antonio in 2016 that turns salty water from an underground aquifer into drinkable water for the community.


There are a multitude of benefits to recycling produced water, many of which operators are already taking advantage of, and as the report said:

“Five plus years ago, the question was whether PW was an ‘asset’ or ‘waste.’ This was answered – [produced water] is both.”

By embracing the technology and creating an adequate regulatory framework around the issue, the oil and natural gas industry will be able to manage this water in an effective and sustainable way, reducing its environmental footprint while still providing an abundance of oil and natural gas.

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