Oil, Gas Companies Plan Changes in How They Use Water

water research


New innovations are helping oil and gas companies consume less fresh water when they conduct hydraulic fracturing operations.

Texas is expected to draft tougher regulations on water for the oil and gas industry, and Irving-based Pioneer Natural Resources plans to stay ahead of the curve, said Mark Berg, executive vice president of operations for Pioneer.

A decade ago, one frack job would require millions of gallons of freshwater injected at high pressure into a wellbore, cracking holes in the shale.

A wellbore is the drilled hole or borehole, including the openhole or uncased portion of the well. Borehole may refer to the inside diameter of the wellbore wall, the rock face that bounds the drilled hole, according to the Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary.


“Water consumption is a big issue for our industry,” Berg said. “Using freshwater wasn’t sustainable. We are now redesigning our completion designs to use brackish water.”

Berg sat down with Ryan Sitton, Texas Railroad Commissioner, to discuss oil and gas regulation and dispel myths about the industry and how it’s regulated at the Earth Day Texas 2016 event Friday afternoon.

“Oil and gas companies that are built to last are the ones who are focusing on sustainable operations,” Berg said. “We’re not interested in profits the wrong way at Pioneer. We’re trying to take the lead.”

Pioneer has cut freshwater use by 50 percent in the Permian Basin in West Texas, one of the few places driller can still actively drill and turn a profit with oil selling at $40 a barrel. For Berg, he said the goal is to stop using freshwater altogether.

Brackish water is the salty water that flows back from the surface during a frack job or when a well is producing oil and gas. Most of the water is injected into disposal wells where it’s gone forever, but more companies are choosing to recycle the water and reuse it as technology advances.


Fountain Quail Water Management, based in Keller, specializes in recycling water for the oil and gas industry. Read more about that company here.

In the last few years, these disposal wells often are blamed for earthquakes in places such as North Texas and Oklahoma. Sitton, who was elected to the commission in 2014, said recent rule changes require companies to gather seismic data when they apply for a new disposal well.

“We have rejected some permit applications just based on risk,” said Sitton, citing fault lines and a history of earthquakes.

“We have rejected some permit applications just based on risk.”
– Ryan Sitton

Pioneer started using another type of water nobody wants — sewer water from Odessa. The company takes about 150,000 to 200,000 gallons of effluent water from Odessa to use on fracking jobs.

“We’re working on the same arrangement with the city of Midland,” Berg said.

Pioneer’s other big project is a 95-mile water pipeline system that connects several drilling operations in West Texas. The goal is to pipe the water to the frack jobs rather than relying on trucks, which causes traffic and damages streets in rural towns where they operate.

Berg and Sitton did face a few angry people at the Earth Day event who raised concerns about air and water pollution and contamination. But Berg said they welcome the regulation of the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality because it keeps the bad operators from ruining the reputation for the rest of the companies in the state.

He said they take disasters such as spills, leaks or other environmental issues seriously.

Sitton agreed.

“It’s my job to find the ones that are not and take them to task,” said Sitton, adding that the commission can strip companies of their license to operate in the state. “It only takes one for everybody in the state to lose confidence. “My job to all 27 million Texans is to make sure that they’ve got confidence in what we’re doing.”


Sitton added that he has a pipeline easement and a producing well near his home.

“Everything that I do as a father, as an engineer, and as a Texan should have the same effect on my kid as it does on your kids,” Sitton said.

Berg added that there’s a lot of misinformation about the oil and gas industry, including in the presidential race.

“You don’t hear a lot of well-informed conclusions. I will say that about the entire field of candidates,” Berg said. “Renewable energy will have to play its part, we actually encourage renewable policy in our federal government. The global economy is going to have to run on hydrocarbons for a period of time.”

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