Brisbane Faces Some Of The Worlds Highest Water Costs

Water wars in the western US and around the world are predicted with increasing frequency as climate fears grow, debilitating droughts persist and human population growth climbs steadily higher. Concerns about fresh water supplies coming under pressure and the increasing cost of supplying fresh water to people, crops and livestock seem to grow more urgent every day. But mitigating technology is being funded and developed – by what may at first appear an unlikely source – the oil and gas industry.

Hydraulic fracturing – as its name suggests – is a water-intensive industrial process that requires increasing volumes as companies drill greater numbers of wells needed to maintain and increase production levels. At the same time, these often horizontal wells are being drilled with longer lateral sections and greater numbers of frack stages, as companies continually optimize drilling and completion techniques.

This means they need more water for their operations. Wells have been hydraulically fractured since the 1940’s, but most were vertical wells that required smaller volumes of water often obtained from local municipal water systems. The breakthrough marriage of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that allowed companies to economically extract hydrocarbons from thin layers of tight rock, like shale, greatly increased demand for water. A common approach today uses 90 barrels of water per minute at 9,000 pounds per square inch to frack a 7,000 to 8,000 foot lateral well section.

This massive increase in water demand has forced companies to invest billions of dollars developing new recycling, filtration and purification technologies. “I think all this water crisis stuff that you hear on the planet will be transformed by technologies the oil and gas industry is going to pay for the development of so that we can have water for our fracking jobs” Cal Cooper, Manager of Special Projects in the office of the CEO at Apache recently told the audience at the Manhattan Institute’s American Oil and Gas Renaissance conference in New York.

“And that will turn right around and make it possible to use groundwater and turn it into fresh water in very innovative and different ways from what we are doing now,” Cooper said.

Read more about “green completions” and fracking water recycling technology in a 3-part Breaking Energy series here, here and here.

Much of the “produced water” that comes back up the well bore after completing a well is contaminated – not only with fracking fluids – but with numerous naturally-occurring chemicals and compounds like salt, various sediments and sometimes even low-level radioactive material.

“So while many of my environmental friends are screaming that the oil and gas business is going to destroy the planet because there is not enough water, I think it’s just the opposite. I think the oil and gas business does nothing better than invest in technologies that make a difference, and wow, are we aligned that we need water in order to make hydraulic fracturing work? We’re going to have to find ways to use very impaired groundwater that could never be considered drinking water economically right now, we’re going to find ways to use that water, we’re going to find ways to clean it up and you all are going to be amazed. And humanity is going to look back 100 years and say ‘wow, if they hadn’t made that investment, who would have?’,” Cooper said.



  • Bullhorn Journal

    So, you have to destroy the water to save it?

  • Ken

    I remain open-minded about all this but one idea captures my imagination. With sea levels rising what is the potential to use sea water for fracking without disturbing and polluting fresh water supplies.

    • Wes_Scott

      Seawater is unsuitable for frac’ing just as it is for drinking because of its high salt content. The frac’ing process is a chemistry experiment where numerous chemical compounds are carefully mixed in specific sequence and proportion to control the chemical reactions that occur. Mix in adulterated water and suddenly reactions begin to occur that are unwanted and dangerous. Using seawater would require building and operating desalination plants close to oil and gas fields, or else trucking treated water a very long distance, either of which would be cost prohibitive.

      Currently, the (Devon Energy) estimated cost of using treated flowback and wastewater is about 70% above normal production costs, and that does not even begin to consider ground transportation costs via truck from a seaside de-sal plant to a drilling site.

      Brinewater located in the ground would be cheaper, but still not financially feasible, which is precisely why the oil and gas industry uses and permanently destroys so much freshwater, as if we have an eternal supply of it, which we do NOT! When our freshwater supply is gone we will cease to exist as a species on this planet, and so will all other forms of life. We will resemble Mars or Pluto.

      • Breaking Energy

        Hi, Wes.

        Thank you for your interest in our coverage and thanks for
        commenting on the piece. According to David Trahan, President and Chief Science Officer at Enersciences Holdings – a service company specializing in well completion fluids and chemicals – his company has developed chemistry that makes it possible to use produced water and high-salinity water for fracking jobs.

        “Amazing things going on right now…we are now taking
        produced water…now salinity is not a problem for us.” You can see his comments in their entirety here, they begin about 20 minutes into the video:

        Kindest regards,
        Jared Anderson

        • Marc

          Jared, I think what Wes stated was probably correct. For a few years now I have heard all sorts of claims from the oil and gas industry about using gelled propane (GasFrac), treated water (Devon Energy, Fountain Quail, et al) and even natural brinewater found in aquifers a thousand feet or more below normal freshwater tables. But, until I see signs of the oil and gas industry actually using any of those technologies in something other than an experimental test operation I am not going to believe there is any validity to such claims about using something other than freshwater.

          Having been in this fight for about 4.5 years, I can tell you that many false claims have been made by industry, but industry insiders tell me that the reason they use freshwater is because it is cheaper, even considering the disposal costs, than using treated water, gelled propane or other technologies that reduce dependence upon freshwater. And, like Wes stated above, I have read (on Devon Energy’s own website) that the production cost of using treated flowback or produced water is about 70% higher than using freshwater.

          There is another issue that nobody in industry talks about – efficiency. Currently, it requires more energy to treat and clean flowback and produced water, or naturally-occurring brinewater, than is produced using that treated water. That means using treated water results in a net energy loss, which is probably why the energy industry does not ever talk about it. A good analogy is the guy who drives 30 miles across town to buy gas for 3 cents less than he can get it where he lives and ends up spending more in the gasoline he burns on his round trip that what he saved by buying the gasoline at the lower price.

          I am not from Missouri, but I will adopt their motto – Show Me! Anybody can make a video claiming to offer some solution to a problem if they have enough money to produce and market it. The proof will be when it becomes an industrywide standard method of operation.

  • Wes_Scott

    I want some of whatever THAT guy was smoking! The oil and gas industry routinely claims that they are only using a very small fraction of annual water consumption, but never mentions that their “very small fraction”, which they declare to be 1-2%, is forever polluted and disposed in deep injection wells far away from our hydrologic cycle.

    Claims are constantly being made of their “breakthrough technologies”, yet these do not seem to become common industry practice because the costs are exorbitant and unprofitable. Now, they are looking at 100 years into the future and making predictions that almost nobody alive today will be around to acknowledge and the people who are alive then will probably be as remiss in learning from history as we are today.

    So, Cal Cooper, fire it up! What you are smoking is obviously some very good stuff! Just don’t fire it up where you guys operate, or else we will have to go about three counties away to find your body to bury it!