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Innovations Assist Producers in Recycling Hydraulic Frac Water

U.S. natural gas producers are touting a variety of innovative systems they use to recycle the huge amounts of water needed to hydraulically fracture their unconventional wells in the face of mounting pressure from environmental groups and the threat of more regulation.

Environmental groups from Colorado to Pennsylvania are threatening to sue over hydraulic fracturing practices, and last month New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey said he would work to pass legislation to close a loophole that exempts hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (see NGI, Nov. 24).

Now producers stepping up a public relations effort to educate the public about some of their recycling practices.

A subsidiary of Newfield Exploration Co. last month contracted with Ecosphere Technologies Inc. to recycle wastewater created from its drilling at the producer's Woodford Shale operations near Coalgate, OK.

Ecosphere is one of several wastewater recyclers gaining attention because of its ability to go into the field and recycle at the drill site. Earlier this year Ecosphere gained approval from the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) to recycle some of the frac water that Devon Energy Corp.'s hydraulic fracs produce in the Barnett Shale. Ecosphere also said it is working with Williams to recycle its Barnett frac water, and it is in talks with other unconventional gas producers.

What sets Ecosphere apart is its self-contained 53-foot water recycling system that may be moved to individual wells to process flow-back well water.

"Historically, energy companies have had to truck off the large quantities of water that initially flow back in the first few weeks of bringing a gas well into production," said Ecosphere President Dennis McGuire. "By treating the flow-back water on site, we eliminate one leg of the hauling cost the energy companies would otherwise have to pay," and that in turn "reduces the completion cost of each well they drill."

The Stuart, FL-based company originally contracted with Newfield to conduct a three-month pilot program in the Woodford Shale to verify the process in the field under actual working conditions, as well as to conduct sampling and laboratory analysis of the recycled water. Because of the test's success, the pilot program was ended earlier than originally planned, Ecosphere noted.

"The past few weeks working in Oklahoma with Newfield Exploration was a milestone event for Ecosphere, Newfield and the natural gas business," said Ecosphere CEO Patrick Haskell. "Newfield allowed us to prove that the Ecosphere Ozonix process could be used at the well site in actual flow-back conditions to produce clean water and clean brine to be used to frac new wells."

Newfield's operations project leader Mike O'Kelley said, "Ecosphere did what they told us they could do. Their equipment and men performed for us on two different flow-back jobs, and the lab results we got back proved that the Ecosphere Ozonix process is highly effective to recycle flow-back waters...To be able to recycle waters with a highly mobile, high-volume water filtration process is a breakthrough for our industry."

Devon's water recycling project with Ecosphere is under way in Johnson County, TX. The project uses a pre-treatment process to remove waste constituents before the water is run through a series of membranes to remove salts. The process also treats produced water that is released from the shale with natural gas. The recycled water then is reused to hydraulically fracture the shale formation.

According to Ecosphere, Devon's water treatment system is projected to produce 75% reusable frac fluid and 25% high concentrate and solids. The concentrate may be used as a drilling fluid or disposed of in an authorized facility.

Devon also was recognized for its water treatment efforts in the Barnett Shale by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a multistate government agency based in Oklahoma that advocates incorporating environmental responsibility with energy production.

The IOGCC in November named the Oklahoma City-based independent a recipient of the IOGCC's Chairman's Stewardship Award, which honors companies for "exemplary efforts in environmental stewardship."

"The commission has voiced the need for sound oil and natural gas environmental policies for decades," said IOGCC executive director Mike Smith. "Devon's water recycling project is an example of how the energy industry, state government and communities can work together to find win-win solutions at a time when energy is more important than ever."

Devon has made water recycling and reclamation a focus since 2005 though a partnership with Granbury, TX-based Fountain Quail Water Management LLC, a subsidiary of Aqua-Pure Ventures Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of water treatment technologies. Devon uses mobile heated distillation units, to reclaim and recycle contaminated water produced during the natural gas drilling process; The units reclaim and recycle about 24% of the 3.5 million gallons of water used during the fracing process.

"Advanced drilling and fracturing technology has been critical to making the Barnett Shale one of the nation's top natural gas fields," noted RRC Commissioner Victor Carrillo. "However, fresh water used to fracture the shale becomes a waste product when it picks up salt, metals and hydrocarbons in the formation. Oil and gas field waste reduction is a priority at the commission, and I commend Devon and other operators who continue to seek ways to reduce frac fluid and produced water waste."

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