February 2019

Executive viewpoint

The Great Water Hope: The future of oilfield produced water
John Tintera / Texas Alliance of Energy Producers

The year is 2030. As we look into the future, America has balanced its trade deficits with rising oil and gas exports. Our Texas oil fields are pumping hydrocarbons to refineries and LNG terminals. Global poverty is dropping, along with emissions. Our planet’s citizens enjoy a golden age of prosperity and wealth, based on our worldwide fossil fuel energy network.  

However, in 2030, Texas weather remains mercurial. Deep in the heart of Texas, a challenging and recurring theme is playing out—drought. 

A water management vision. But in this futuristic scenario, there’s a new soldier in the battle with Mother Nature. In every oil field, at almost every commercial injection well, a “midstream water management” company is in place. Midstream water management and recycling technology will be collecting, treating, storing, transporting and reusing the ancient ocean water buried millions of years ago, which is now being lifted to the surface, along with oil and
gas production.

This salty water, infused with hydrocarbons and sometimes with oilfield chemicals, has been produced alongside oil and gas for over 100 years. It was almost always collected and pumped down heavily regulated, closely monitored, and specially permitted disposal wells, deep into the earth. However, the water management companies in 2030 will have the technology and growing economic incentives to test and treat the produced water before it is re-used. Only a fraction of the volume will need to be injected back into the earth.  

This treated, produced water may be the “great water hope” for drought-stricken regions.

In the year 2030, produced water will be treated to whatever limits are needed for its beneficial reuse, whether it’s in the oil field, or outside. Non-edible crop irrigation or discharge into the waters of the U.S. will have established analytical criteria. Public health, safety and environmental protection will have been evaluated and addressed by science and facts. The stream of oilfield water, once locked out of the hydrologic circle by over a mile of rock, will now be an asset, not a waste.   

Current status. Today, in Texas of 2019, this vision is not just a clouded future goal. We are part-way there. Midstream water management and recycling are common in our oil fields. But the treated water is typically reused only inside the oil field.

As technology and business continue to grow, how do we safely expand this opportunity? Do we have the policies that allow and even encourage this water reuse?  Do we have the statutes, regulatory framework, civil law, and economic incentives to safely allow this transformation of waste to publicly available water?

Those questions are currently under evaluation. A white paper entitled, Sustainable Produced Water Policy, Regulatory Framework, and Management in the Texas Oil and Gas Industry:  2019 and Beyond, is being researched and written under the auspices of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers (TAEP) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). The current white paper is building on the earlier work of Lyons and Tintera (2014) with data gathering, multiple interviews of industry leaders, and significant regulatory reviews. The 2019 white paper will be rolled out in Washington, D.C., and Austin this spring, to help provide the facts and analysis that decision-makers, law-givers, and voters need to determine where we are today and where we might be going, what we are doing right in Texas, and what we can do better with produced water.  

A growing awareness. TAEP and IPAA are not alone in this fact-driven analysis. The 86th Texas Legislature understands the need to evaluate this opportunity. The Texas House Energy Resources Committee will meet jointly with the House Natural Resources Committee in early February, to discuss the current status of water usage in oil and gas production. The committee also will review various technologies associated with the recycling and reuse of water in oil and gas production. Our elected officials are to be commended for listening.

The oil and gas industry is listening. On April 3, TAEP and IPAA will co-host an Expo in Irving, Texas, where over 1,000 attendees will have the opportunity to meet, listen, and ask questions of technical and regulatory experts during a seminar on produced water.

Federal regulators are listening. The EPA announced this winter, its own internal white paper to evaluate the role of the federal government in produced water handling and discharges. Business leaders and investors are listening. The growth of midstream water companies in Texas, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in financial capital they are raising, speaks volumes.

In the futuristic world of 2030, our global citizens are counting on America’s hydrocarbon energy. Someday, when science, fact, economics, incentives and politics align with regulations and policy, the world may also be counting on our safely recycled produced water. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
John Tintera
Texas Alliance of Energy Producers
John Tintera is President of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. He holds BS and MS degrees in geology from Michigan State University and has almost 30 years of combined technical and managerial experience. Mr. Tintera is a regulatory expert and licensed geologist with a thorough knowledge of virtually all facets of oil and gas E&P and transportation, including conventional and unconventional reservoirs. His expertise has not only been sought in the U.S., but also by European governments confronted with the recent potential of developing unconventional energy in their countries. As a former Executive Director and 22-year veteran of the Railroad Commission of Texas, Mr. Tintera oversaw the entire regulatory process, from drilling permits to pipeline transportation. He has an in-depth knowledge of the state and federal regulatory framework of the E&P industry, including RCRA, CERCLA, SDW Act and OPA. In addition, Mr. Tintera has a comprehensive knowledge of environmental assessment, remediation and emergency response. In November 2017, he was elected President by the Board of Directors of TAEP and took office at the beginning of 2018. The Alliance is the largest state association in the U.S. for independents.
Related Articles
Connect with World Oil
Connect with World Oil, the upstream industry's most trusted source of forecast data, industry trends, and insights into operational and technological advances.