The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting public comment on a draft study that examines how onshore oil and natural gas wastewater can be better managed as it continues to increase in basins across the country.
The study has so far gathered input from a wide array of stakeholders, including states, industry, academics and public health officials. The effort began one year ago and culminated in the draft study that was developed using feedback the agency received.
Currently, most produced water from conventional and unconventional wells is disposed of in deep underground injection wells, but “the limits of injection are evident in some areas, and new approaches are becoming necessary,” EPA said. The agency added that some stakeholders are asking whether it makes sense to continue wasting the flowback, particularly as unconventional drilling is booming in arid regions such as Texas and New Mexico, versus treating and recycling it.
The draft study determined that while many stakeholders support increasing opportunities for discharging wastewater to surface waters, especially where it could address critical water needs, others expressed concerns that discharges to surface water could potentially impact the environment.
The study comes at a time when midstream and upstream companies are themselves investing in more ways to get water to wells sites for completions and then manage it more effectively downstream. A study released late last year by Duke University showed that the amount of water being used to complete wells increased by 770% between 2011 and 2016, while flowback volumes increased by up to 1,440% over the same time.
Volumes are likely to continue growing, EPA said. The draft study does not announce or discuss any regulatory efforts, but it is to be finalized this summer and should identify any future actions to better address industry wastewater. Public comments will be accepted until July 1 and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.