New Mexico oil and gas water research studies economics and toxicity



A by-product produced during oil and gas drilling could be processed and reused in other industries if the state of New Mexico achieves its goal of developing new technologies to reuse water.

The State of New Mexico created its 2019 Produced Water Research Consortium to study the expanded applications of water and its ability to address water scarcity through a partnership with the University of State of New Mexico.

The project was initiated in response to the passage of the Produced Water Act in 2019, as the New Mexico Department of the Environment was tasked by law with regulating the use of produced water in outside of oil and gas and sought to understand its content, generation and potential for reuse.

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In a meeting Tuesday with the consortium at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad, Director Michael Hightower provided a public update on the group’s research to date on the impact of water. product and progress in the design of new applications.

The meeting saw participants break into groups to learn more about studies on the toxicity of produced water, potential treatment methods, and the possible economic benefits of reusing it.

Hightower said the research was particularly important as oil and gas operations expanded in New Mexico, recently producing up to 1 million barrels of oil and 4 million barrels of produced water per day, three times the Albuquerque water availability.

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Records show that operators in New Mexico generated about 160 million gallons per day of produced water last year, a source so far underutilized in the arid state, Hightower said when is eliminated.

“It’s a lot of water. When it is reinjected, it is no longer available for reuse, ”said Hightower. “There is potentially a lot of water that could be used. That’s a lot of economic development for the state of New Mexico. This is an opportunity for us.

Michael Hightower presents findings from the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium on November 9, 2021 at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad.

A “significant” opportunity

Produced water is a combination of reflux from hydraulic fracturing – when water, sand, and chemicals are pumped underground to break up shale rock formations so that fossil fuels can be extracted – and water formation from deep underground with crude oil and natural gas.

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Wells can generate up to 10 barrels of produced water, or about 42 gallons, for each barrel of oil extracted.

Traditionally, water rich in brine and toxic to humans is discharged through injection wells when it is pumped underground.

In recent years, energy companies across the United States and recently in the Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico and western Texas have begun to find ways to treat and reuse this water in subsequent fracturing operations.

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New Mexico hoped to go further by removing enough chemicals and contaminants to allow water reuse in industries like agriculture or for municipal purposes like watering city parks.

“Some of this water is more difficult to treat. Some are easier to deal with, ”Hightower said. “What we’re trying to do is match the quality of the water with the potential use. All waters are not the same. We are looking at the potential for reuse outside of oil and gas. These applications are more difficult because they have more impact on the environment and the public.

Rose Galbraith, an epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health, said safe reuse of produced water could generate up to $ 1 billion in economic impact.

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“If this water can be reused safely, this represents a significant economic opportunity,” she said.

Rose Galbraith, an epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health, presents her results on the toxicity of produced water during a presentation on November 9, 2021 at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad.

Stephen Hightower, a physician who worked with the consortium, said the toxicity of the water produced was being assessed by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has partnered with the consortium, outlining the water to zebrafish, human cells and plants in greenhouses to study the impact on living organisms.

“These processes are part of our development of safe water that can be reused for multiple uses,” he said. “With this type of test, we believe we can find an appropriate and suitable use for the treated produced water.”

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He said that in the Permian Basin, where produced water has a high salinity level, treatment could require a thermal desalination process, which Stephen Hightower said could prove costly.

Other options such as reverse osmosis and other types of filters were under consideration, he said.

“We need different technologies,” he said. “It’s a question of whether it’s profitable. “

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“Very good data”

Vince Tidwell, of Sandia National Laboratories, said the level of total dissolved solids (TDS) is a defining characteristic of how it is processed and how it can be used.

He said the consortium used socio-economic modeling to try to find the best treatment methods and form of reuse for various areas of New Mexico where water is produced.

Treating produced water to potable water quality, Tidwell said, could only return about 30% of the water in one scenario, while treatment to brine water – rich in salt – might return. restore up to 90%.

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“That’s really what drives what we do,” he said of TDS levels. “It really is one of the most important factors. The level of processing we do often dictates how much water we will take out because there is so much salt.

But if done, Tidwell said the economic benefits could be immense, creating jobs and adding up to millions of dollars, depending on the reuse method, to the local economy.

“There are all these kinds of runoff impacts,” he said. “We have to compare this regional economic growth to the cost and get the bottom line.”

Vince Tidwell with Sandia National Laboratories discusses the economic benefits of reusing produced water during a presentation on November 9, 2021 at New Mexico State University in Carlsbad.

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Debra Dixon, consortium member and former director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, said high TDS levels in Permian Basin water would continue to create a challenge for treatment.

In the San Juan Basin, produced water can represent about 10,000 parts per million (ppm) of TDS, while the Permian can record up to 300,000 ppm of TDS.

“It changes the profitability paradigm,” she said of the Permian’s high TDS readings.

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That is why in nine projects proposed and approved for potential consortium support and funding, she said, the Permian and San Juan basins were represented, along with three major technological methods, including applications. thermal and various filtration systems.

The pilots ranged from processing 10 to 10,000 barrels per day, Dixon said, and all were either underway or delayed.

But when completed, Dixon said the studies could provide the information needed to capture produced water as a source for all New Mexicans.

“We have a good representation of the technologies,” she said. “Assuming this is all over, we’ll have some really good data. The results are not yet known, but there is a lot of potential.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.



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