The Next Shale Oil Battle

The Next Shale Oil Battle

Over the past several years, shale oil production has ballooned as the result of fracking. Today, shale oil represents about half of the crude oil produced by the United States.

Shale oil production, as well as natural gas production, uses a lot of fresh water, and there have already been cries against using fresh water for fracking.

Can curtailing the use of water stop fracking?

Thus far, these cries have not achieved traction because the amount of fresh water used for fracking is tiny when seen as a percentage of total water consumption and availability.

But fracking also results in large quantities of backflow water. Approximately 6.5 barrels of backflow water are produced for every barrel of crude oil produced.

About 11 billion bbl of backflow, i.e., produced water, will be produced in 2019.

The produced water must be disposed of in disposal wells, but these wells have created earthquakes. Most earthquakes are very small, but a few have caused considerable damage.

The issue has been raised: Can we continue to dispose of produced water in disposal wells as the quantities seem to increase every year?

Obviously, it would shut down fracking if disposal of produced water was curtailed.

The oil industry is trying to develop methods for treating produced water so it can be reused in fracking, and more importantly, treated so it could be disposed of with surface discharge.

The first obstacle is cost, but efforts are underway to reduce the cost of treating produced water.

The next obstacle, and possibly far more difficult to overcome, are rules regarding the use and disposal of treated water.

In August, the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers (TAEP) published a white paper, Sustainable Produced Water Policy, Regulatory Framework, and Management in the Texas oil and Natural Gas Industry.

This white paper proposes a regulatory process for the management of produced water that would allow the use of treated water for fracking, and for surface discharge.

However, even if a policy can be developed for using treated water in fracking, it will still only represent a very small portion of the produced water that originates from fracking.

It’s essential, therefore, for the regulations to allow surface disposal of produced water if the use of disposal wells is to be substantially reduced or eliminated.

Those who oppose fracking will see they have an opportunity to stop or severely curtail fracking, and the production of crude oil and natural gas, if they can prevent these orderly regulations from being developed.

This is a way in which the proponents of catastrophic climate change can curtail the use of fossil fuels.

It’s very likely that opposition to the development of sound regulations for treating produced water will, along with pipeline protests, become widespread in the next year or so. 

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2 Replies to “The Next Shale Oil Battle”

  1. Treatment technologies and testing methods must be advanced by the industry and vetted by federal environmental agencies so there is a national regulatory standard rather than multiple state or local standards.

    • Thanks for your comment.
      Not sure why there has to be a national standard. It could simplify acceptance which would be helpful, but trying to develop a standard acceptable to everyone could raise political issues preventing any standard at all.