The oil & gas industry is beginning to optimize the processes surrounding fracking, a move that signifies the maturation of a booming market sector. We’re glad to see the industry shifting in the right direction. That being said, Ecologix’s Eli Gruber produced the following article, published in the December 2012 issue of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines, discussing how smart water management practices contribute to wins on all sides of the fracking industry. Click the picture to view the original, or read the transcript below.
An interesting thing happened in the lead up to the recent U.S. elections: Officials from the two main parties talked about America’s unprecedented opportunity to become self-sufficient in energy. For the first time in a long time, there was unilaterally positive discussion about how much oil and natural gas is being drilled in the nation, perhaps with the expectation that the country can do even more.
While the complete conversation about hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking” or “frac-ing”) specifically has not changed altogether, politicians’ tone on the whole seemed to give tacit, if not explicit, approval to the industry’s fracking boom. And, within energy circles, fracking has rightfully become a national priority — a process that at the very least will be a short- to midterm solution while the industry works to develop and scale renewable energy solutions. As the hope and promise of national energy independence grows, fracking has to be ready for more scrutiny.
To help drilling companies with water reuse, Ecologix Environmental Systems has designed a mobile, integrated treatment system (ITS-900) for hydraulic fracturing that can treat up to 900 gallons per minute of frac flowback wastewater.
Now that the thought of becoming self-sufficient in energy has captured the country’s imagination, the industry should expect, and perhaps even welcome, closer attention to the methods behind America’s new appetite for drilling. This means the industry will come to terms with water management and reuse. Water, after all, is already the top environmental concern related to fracking. Earlier this year, for instance, our company surveyed wastewater and energy industry professionals, asking them to select their top concerns related to fracking. The results showed water to be the pre- dominant issue, with 72 percent of respondents stating that water-related environmental problems were their top concern.
With results like that, it is clear the energy industry can and should place more emphasis on frac water treatment and reuse. And the topic will remain a top concern as the use of hydraulic fracturing grows. Every good story about water management success is a win for the industry’s growth prospects as a whole. Newer, more-advanced water treatment solutions will open the door to a more balanced discussion about fracking’s potential energy and economic benefits.
One place where this will play out will be in the regulatory arena. Here, energy industry companies are already seeing water management become an essential regulatory responsibility.
For the longest time, water management was the sole domain of municipal governments. These governments would take wastewater from drilling operations and carry the burden of treating it. This role has since shifted to industry practitioners. In Pennsylvania, for instance, there is a state law requiring that hydraulic fracturing companies create their own water management plans before drilling.
While regulations can sometimes be an unnecessary hindrance, a new rule in Pennsylvania takes a water management practice that should be part of the overall drilling process, and goes the extra mile of ensuring that companies have thought out their water needs before drilling begins. It is an appropriate step considering the water concerns seen with hydraulic fracturing. Beyond making operators better stewards of water resources, the law will hopefully lead to better community relations with people who live near drilling sites.
The law reinforces what companies are discovering on their own: With smart water management and frac water reuse, they can be more efficient, reduce their impact on the environment and protect their reputations. Most important, they can improve their bottom lines.
Making the Case
Frac water reuse can also reduce drillers’ water transportation needs, eliminating the time and resources needed to haul millions of gallons of untreated water to disposal wells. And it helps drillers to avoid the long-term ecological change possible from injecting water into disposal wells — a process that can result in the permanent removal of large amounts of water from underground aquifers and the entire hydrologic cycle.
The case for reuse is strong. Drillers are better off knowing what is in their frac water, knowing how to safely treat it and acting in a way that protects local fresh water supplies. As drillers move toward those goals, they will have an opportunity to help create an industry shift. It will mean the oil and gas industry takes the lead with smart water practices, taking advantage of emerging water treatment procedures that reduce environmental impact while improving productivity and profitability.
Perhaps best of all, making frac water reuse a reality in the oil and natural gas industry will mean drillers are taking full advantage of the national momentum we have toward energy self-sufficiency.
Eli Gruber is president and CEO of Ecologix Environmental Systems, an Atlanta-based wastewater treatment company specializing in the oil and gas industry.