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Environmental Blog

  • 03
  • May
  • 2017


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Oklahoma Report Offers Key Insights on Recycling and Re-Use of Produced Water

The cheapest and most common method for disposal of produced water – the salty water that is co-produced with oil and natural gas – is typically by using disposal wells to inject the water into deep non-potable formations. But that may be changing in Oklahoma, where produced water volumes are rising with the development of the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province (SCOOP), and Sooner Trend Anadarko Basin Canadian and Kingfisher Counties (STACK) plays and where seismicity thought to be induced by deep injection well disposal of produced water has caused public officials to search for disposal alternatives. In December 2015, Governor Mary Fallin tasked a working group called the “Water for 2060 Produced Water Working Group” with assessing produced water recycling or re-use as disposal alternatives. The working group’s April 2017 report includes important insights into the future of water recycling and re-use in Oklahoma and perhaps beyond.

Relying in large part on cost data provided by state oil and gas companies, the working group identified produced water re-use, including re-use in completing and drilling new wells, as among the most cost-effective alternatives to injection well disposal. A key finding from the working group is that costs to re-use produced water are competitive with and in some cases cheaper than injection well disposal, with transportation costs being a primary variable. Further, the working group projects that injection well disposal prices may increase alongside oil prices, which may further “tip the cost equation towards produced water re-use.” However, the working group reports that many other factors, such as the lack of existing produced water pipeline infrastructure and problems associated with obtaining rights-of-way (e.g., negotiating with landowners) needed to build out new infrastructure, have prevented and are preventing widespread re-use of produced water.

Among the working group’s key conclusions are that oil and gas companies operating in Oklahoma have begun installing produced water pipeline infrastructure, but that further study is needed on water re-use and other solutions (such as forced evaporation and desalination) and that legislative fixes may be needed to facilitate these solutions. A model solution to the right-of-way problem that is not mentioned in the report could be Texas legislation, such as S.B. 514 (2013) and H.B. 497 (2015), that encourages installation of produced water pipelines in state rights-of-way. The timing of the working group’s report may foreclose legislative changes in the very near-term, however, as the ongoing legislative session is scheduled to end on May 26, 2017.

Click here for access to the full report. The working group’s report is just part of Oklahoma’s comprehensive water plan for 2060, so stay tuned for further updates.

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Taylor Holcomb

Taylor Holcomb Senior Associate