Operating efficiently means operating with fewer distractions and, for many oil and natural gas operations, that means removing water treatment and management problems from the equation. Unfortunately, water can be one of the most inefficiently used resources in a drilling environment, particularly in hydraulic fracturing, a process that often requires millions of gallons of water to yield maximum output from each well.

On many drill sites, the inefficiency starts with the need to deliver and remove water. Suddenly, businesses that should be more concerned about extracting energy resources from the ground find themselves consumed with the logistical details around delivering and removing tanker loads of water from a drill site. Sourcing clean water and arranging for disposal of truckloads of contaminated water becomes an expensive, inefficient, long-term distraction.

It is no secret that managing water is not the core of what oil and gas exploration is about. If water management is ignored, though, it can become one of the top impediments to a successful and efficient operation. That is already beginning to become the case in hydraulic fracturing: According to a recent poll conducted by Ecologix Environmental Systems, 73% of industry leaders said water-related issues are the single biggest concern when it comes to hydraulic fracturing.

Wellhead water treatment for streamlined, active management

Water treatment is a key step in managing expectations and making the drilling operation as efficient as possible. Companies are beginning to make water a more efficient and manageable part of the process by performing water treatment directly at the well site.

With the latest technologies capable of treating up to 900 gal/min of water, drillers can recapture a good portion of the water they use in a well and quickly treat it, greatly reducing the inefficient models built around transporting and removing water from a drill site by truck. Companies gain the ability to safely reintroduce that water back into the environment, or they can even streamline their operations to a greater degree and preserve local freshwater resources by reusing the treated water in their drilling operations.

Water management as part of the process

In some places, the regulatory environment is forcing companies to put more thought into the efficiency of their water management processes. A new law in Pennsylvania, for instance, requires operators to document their water consumption and use in hydraulic fracturing activities. It also requires that companies must establish their reuse plans prior to withdrawing water for consumption.

While regulations can sometimes be an unnecessary hindrance, the new rule in Pennsylvania takes a water management practice that should be part of the overall drilling process and goes the extra mile by ensuring that companies have thought through their water needs before drilling begins. It is an appropriate step considering the water concerns seen with hydraulic fracturing. In addition to 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, they can be more efficient, reduce their impact on the environment, and protect their reputations. They also can improve their bottom lines.

New, optimized water management possibilities for greater yields

With hydraulic fracturing in particular, wellsite water treatment might actually be more than a way to solve water management issues. Emerging research is beginning to show how frac water from well sites can be optimized for reuse in drilling.

Cleaning takes care of some of the long-standing safety challenges drillers face as it removes chemicals that could otherwise cause unintended reactions when reused for drilling. Sometimes the water used in hydraulic fracturing will have a low salt content, depending on its origin. But early research with low salt-content water has yielded interesting results. While such water might be thought of as “cleaner,” it might not reflect the natural salinity of the ground water in a given geographic area.

Some drillers are beginning to see the amount of salt present in frac water has an effect on the amount of swelling that takes place underground. When there is not enough salt, the ground swells, shrinking the already small cracks needed to let hydrocarbons escape.

Researchers are looking at ways saline-optimized water, created through careful management and engineering of treated frac water recovered on site, can possibly reduce swelling, making the release and capture of hydrocarbons more efficient. It is a scenario that may represent water management’s evolution into an even greater role. Not only is water treatment important for regulatory, community, transportation, and safety reasons, but a well-executed treated water plan also increases yield and makes the whole process more profitable and productive.