Frackers Use Toilet Water In Drought-prone Texas
17 August 2015No Comments
Top shale oil producer Pioneer Natural Resources Co has found an alternative to both save water and cut costs for its fracking wells: tapping the treated runoff from toilets, sinks, and showers in west Texas. Pioneer has signed an 11 year, $117 million deal with the city of Odessa, Texas, guaranteeing access to millions of gallons of treated municipal wastewater each day, for use in nearby oil fields. Deliveries are expected to start at the end of the year.
Crude oil has declined to its lowest level in six years, pricing currently about $40 a barrel. Oil and gas companies pumping from shale rock have tried to cut expenses immensely for their operations. Water acquisition and transportation can be up to 10 percent of the cost of drilling and fracking a well. Oil and gas companies operating in area, including Pioneer and Apache Corp, have long sought cheaper, more environmentally sound sources of water to use for fracking. Both companies have drawn some of the water they use in their operations from the Permian’s brackish aquifers, which holds water unfit for drinking. Both companies also have worked to recycle water that is used for frack jobs or found in the ground while drilling.
During hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, millions of gallons of water are blasted, as well as sand and chemicals, into a well drilled through shale or other rocks. The high-pressure slurry cracks the rock, allowing oil and gas to escape and exit the well. Pioneer is the first oil and gas company to sign a long-term wastewater supply contract with Odessa, a city of about 110,000 people. The Dallas-based company recently began construction on a pipeline network that will transport the treated water from the city’s sewage plant to one of its oilfields about 20 miles away. Pioneer’s goal is to eliminate the use of fresh water in fracking in 5 to 10 years.
Where Does the Reclaimed Water Come From?
According to Texas regulators, the municipal reclaimed water the company intends to use comes from sewage plants that treat human waste and water from activities that include bathing and food preparation. City officials say the deal will provide a steady stream of revenue and reduces truck traffic. Larry Long, the Odessa city attorney who helped to negotiate the deal with Pioneer, stated, “We didn’t think we were making our highest and best use of our effluent water, we were using a lot for irrigation.” He continued, “We thought it had more value going to the oil companies,” noting that it would allow potable water currently going to the oil fields to be put to other uses.
EOG Resources Inc, which has wells in the Eagle Ford formation in South Texas, is considering using water from wastewater treatment plants. Anadarko Petroleum Corp uses treated water purchased from the city of Aurora in Colorado. Alpha Reclaim, a private Houston company owned by BNN Energy that supplies reclaimed water to oil companies in Texas, has dealings or contracts with about 30 cities in Texas, including Big Lake in the western part of the state. The firm is looking to grow its water business, including its use of reclaimed wastewater.