There are few things — if any — that are more important to our lives than water. Without water, human life ceases to exist.
Texas is all too familiar with frequent periods of drought and increasing demand on our water supply; when we think about challenges with water it’s usually in regard to water scarcity. So it’s difficult to imagine that we might have too much water and that having too much would present a problem. However, that is the conundrum that we, the Texas oil and gas industry, find ourselves facing today.
With the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the industry is using more water to produce oil and gas, while simultaneously producing more water alongside the oil and gas than ever before. As the amount of produced water from oil and gas operations increases — and as our state’s overall need for water continues to climb with population growth and an uptick in manufacturing and other industrial uses — so does the need to find a solution to the question of how to best utilize all this produced water.
Indeed, produced water management is one of the biggest issues confronting the oil and gas industry today, with disposal through injection being the most utilized method currently. While this is a safe and economic choice, for the most part, I do not believe it is the best long-term answer for managing produced water for many reasons.
I recently issued a paper through my new nonprofit, the 98th Meridian Foundation, regarding regulations on disposal wells in Texas. As a former regulator, I wanted to start a serious dialogue around the regulations and permitting process for these wells to greater account for risk profiles of each.
To do so, I propose bifurcating rules to create two different levels of well categorization: high-volume/high-pressure wells and low-volume/low-pressure wells — with all high-volume disposal wells (HVDWs) subject to heightened standards from a permitting and regulatory perspective. Specifically, recommendations include expanding the area of review from quarter-mile radius to half-mile radius; increasing the fees for HVDW permits; and prohibiting the conversion of a producing well to a HVDW.
Other recommendations involve increased beneficial reuse of produced water in lieu of disposing the fluid and removing it from the hydraulic cycle. Beneficial reuses of produced water include but are not limited to: use in hydraulic fracturing fluid and other wellbore uses; mining; power generation, such as cooling ponds; irrigation of nonedible crops and large-scale watering operations; irrigation of consumable crops; and potentially even drinking water.
I know some of the recommendations will be controversial, and I welcome productive discussions around these ideas. In fact, that is one of my main goals in forming the foundation: to ignite productive, at times provocative, discussions around issues pertaining to water, energy and land — providing thoughtful, science-based solutions to problems that take into account the big picture and attempt to preserve and improve what makes Texas great.
Over the coming months, I plan to take these discussions on the road, hosting workshops and forums around the state that focus on the recommendations contained in the 98th Meridian Foundation white paper, as well as other issues that fall within the water, energy and land nexus.
For more information: To learn more about the 98th Meridian Foundation, to download the white paper or to get involved at an upcoming event, please visit 98thmeridianfoundation.org.