…Water and Fracking…
Water is back in the news for two reasons.
- First, the amount of water used and extracted from wells has increased the probability of earthquakes.
- Second, the possibility of water shortages has raised concerns about the availability of water for fracking.
Both concerns could impact shale oil production, which has grown to 7.5 million barrels per day in 2018 and is expected to grow by another half million barrels per day in 2019.
About 9 million gallons of water are used when fracking a well, but this can vary widely. Fresh water has been the main type of water used, though brackish water has been used extensively in Texas.
As fracking has become more efficient with laterals extending to over 10,000 feet, more water has been used.
Water plays a key role in fracking. At very high pressures, water shatters the shale which releases the oil and natural gas trapped in the shale.
Sand, suspended in the water, props up the cracks and keeps them open. Without the proppant, i.e, sand, the cracks would close and prevent the oil and natural gas from escaping the shale.
Water is the medium that delivers the sand to the cracks. But the water must be at exactly the right consistency to allow the sand to reach deep into the cracks, which is where chemicals enter the picture.
If the water is too thin, the sand will sink and not reach the cracks in the shale. If it’s too thick, the sand could clump and not reach deep into the cracks. In addition, chemicals are added to make the water slippery, allowing it to flow more readily through the drill pipe and deep into the cracks.
Shale drillers have developed precisely the right mix of water, sand, and chemicals to get the best results from each well.
An early concern about fracking was the use of chemicals that might pollute drinking water. In addition, the water that’s extracted from the well will bring a myriad of pollutants from the fracked well, including radioactive minerals. Extracted water poses a threat if it isn’t disposed of carefully.
The amount of water extracted from each well is greater than the amount of water pumped into the well, as residual groundwater is removed along with the fracking water when it is ejected from the well.
Extracted water has been disposed of by injecting it thousands of feet underground in wells specially designed for this purpose.
Disposal wells have been in operation for decades since all wells, conventional or otherwise, will extract water from virtually every well.
Because of the long-term use of disposal wells, it came as a surprise when pumping the used fracking water underground in disposal wells caused earthquakes.
Most of the earthquakes have been in Oklahoma with an increasing number in Texas.
Steps were taken to mitigate the problem by restricting the quantities of wastewater and the pressures at which it was injected into disposal wells.
While the vast majority of these earthquakes have been small, some have caused considerable damage.
The potential for earthquakes and the possible shortages of fresh water have resulted in the development of water treatment plants so that fracking water can be reused.
The treatment must eliminate toxic materials, chemicals, and bacteria sufficient to allow the use of the treated water in fracking operations, but not to make it usable for drinking.
Increasingly, there will be greater use of treated water when fracking wells.
Using treated water will reduce the amount of water that must be disposed of in disposal wells, thereby reducing the threat of earthquakes, while also helping to ensure sufficient water for fracking.
Fracking has resulted in the United States becoming energy independent when also considering oil imported from Canada and Mexico.
Fracking has improved America’s strategic position in the world, allowing it to export natural gas and oil. LNG exports to Europe have the potential to reduce Russia’s influence on Europe.
Fracking has been a boon to the economy, keeping consumer prices low, especially for natural gas, while fostering economic growth.
The interest in using treated water has grown rapidly and there will be an Expo in Irving Texas next month where thousands will have an opportunity to learn more about water treatment.
Using treated water will help ensure the continued success of fracking.
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