Each year the US oil and gas industry generates around one trillion gallons of produced water as a byproduct of oil and gas development. Unfortunately, despite droughts stretching across the arid western United States, much of this produced water is unfit for reuse and must be disposed of in centrally-located underground injection wells. Experts at GE’s newest research center, the Oil & Gas Technology Center in Oklahoma City, are working to develop new cost-effective and sustainable methods for treating and reusing produced water. This entails localizing disposal of some of the poorest quality water through a variety of technologies, including well partitioning.
Produced water management is critical to environmentally responsible oil and gas operations worldwide. Advanced technologies in both water treatment and well drilling exist today that will make it possible to retrofit existing oil and gas wells to recover hydrocarbons, treat the produced waters, and use the treated waters to recharge non-potable groundwater aquifers through the existing well bore. Well partitioning is a production-aquifer recharge system that offers the potential to reduce costly transport and disposal operations while reducing the possible environmental impact associated with handling water at the surface.
Perhaps even more exciting is the opportunity that well partitioning could offer to convert the produced water that is currently wasted into a resource, perhaps by connecting drought-stricken areas or aquifers in severe shortage with a large supply of treated water for recharge. The technology could hold the key for the oil and gas industry to have a net positive impact on the hydrological cycle – returning more clean water than it uses in the development process.
The oil and gas industry generates one trillion barrels of produced water annually. If even a small portion of that water could be treated and returned to the environment it could have a positive impact on drought-stricken areas.
Treating produced water in the oil and gas context isn’t entirely new for GE. In Wyoming, GE is working with Encana to deploy reverse osmosis membrane treatment technologies for cleaning produced field water from its Moneta Divide field to Class 1 standards, characterized as an “outstanding aquatic resource” by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
Whether produced water can be cost-effectively treated and returned for beneficial use ultimately depends on a number of factors, most importantly, water quality. At the Oil & Gas Technology Center, we are working with customers to develop even more technologies that could help reduce the oil and gas industry’s water usage and hold the potential to safely repurpose produced water for beneficial uses.