Produced Water Treatment Primer for Oil and Gas Operations

Project ID: 1617
Principal Investigator: Katharine Dahm
Research Topic: Desalination and Water Treatment
Priority Area Assignments: 2013 (Advanced Water Treatment), 2014 (Advanced Water Treatment)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2013 and 2014
Keywords: produced water, oil and gas, water treatment, primer, factsheets

Research Question

Water generated during oil and gas production from sub-surface hydraulic aquifers is often referred to by the oil and gas industry as produced water. This water is generally saline in nature and produced in large quantities in the western United States. Disposal of produced water is difficult, because discharge to fresh water sources without treatment can result in environmental contamination. Therefore, a majority of produced water is re-injected into subsurface formations for disposal.

Treatment technology design has recently begun to focus on the unique challenges associated with treating these high salinity (>100,000 mg/L TDS) water streams with elevated amounts of hydrocarbons. Produced water treatment technologies allow produced water to be used for beneficial purposes such as irrigation water, livestock water, or stream flow augmentation. Previous Reclamation research in this topic area dealt with characterizing water chemistry, evaluating treatment process components suitable for contaminant removal, and managing treated produced water in an environmentally friendly manner that provides an additional beneficial product to western water supply.

The knowledge gap between the produced water treatment studies and industry uses of this information is the guidance necessary to match treatment processes to different source water applications. This proposal attempts to answer the following research questions:

What water treatment systems are commercially available for the management and treatment of oil and gas produced water?
What are the key cost and performance specifications for produced water processes?
How can produced water treatment systems be compared in an objective manner?
What information needs to be reported for new technologies and processes in order to allow for technology comparison?
Is there a standard method that can be used for reporting technology performance, cost, and energy consumption that facilitates comparison of technologies

Need and Benefit

In arid regions of the US the average consumptive use of water resources continues to increase and exceed the available fresh water supply. Water shortages are expected to increase due to strains on water resources stemming from factors such as population growth and climate change. Limited volumes of conventional water resources have increased interest in the use of alternate water sources to meet growing demands. These alternate sources often require more rigorous treatment than conventional resources, but their untapped potential is attractive for bridging the gap between water availability and water demand.

Produced water co-exists naturally with oil and gas deposits in subsurface formations and represents the largest waste stream associated with oil and gas production. Produced water is extracted at an average rate of 2.4 billion gallons per day in the US [1]. Over 80% of the produced water generated nationwide is produced in the Western US and, based on 2025 projections, is generated in regions that are expected to experience water shortages [2]. Areas such as the Central Valley in California are home to over 50,000 oil and gas wells that generate almost 55 billion gallons of water annually [1]. Examples of potential uses for produced water in the regions of the Western US include:

-On-site reuse for well drilling or hydraulic fracturing
-Livestock water
-Irrigation water
-Surface water augmentation
-Drinking water applications

The use of produced water for these applications is limited by the information currently available on treatment technologies capable of treating produced water for beneficial use. Given the environmental concerns of untreated produced water discharge, a number of studies have focused on the broad issues surrounding beneficial use and treatment of produced water. Most projects completed to date focused on the application of desalination technologies commonly employed for brackish and seawater treatment. These technologies are capable of treating a wide range of produced water qualities. Although these treatment designs can be broadly applied across different water types, board inclusive designs can be more costly than designs specific to source water composition. Differentiating common types of produced source waters allows for matching of treatment systems tailored for the specific compositions. Research to define and match produced water treatment processes to source water composition is necessary to facilitate beneficial use.

In additional to national benefits for produced water stakeholders, specific benefits of the produced water treatment primer to regional and area offices of Reclamation include:
-A documented basis of water management techniques that protect Reclamation waters by offering treatment and disposal options for oil and gas produced water.
-Provides a tool to allow for consideration of produced water as an alternative water supply and engage in projects that beneficially use produced water in (i) drought prone agricultural areas (ii) rural communities and Native American nations, and (iii) drought prone, high produced water production areas, such as Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and California.
-Reduces the cost of developing projects for produced water use by providing a design basis and guidance document for area/regional office design projects
-Broadly applicable tool for area/regional offices for other highly saline concentrate management similar in composition or concentration to produced water resources

[1] Clark, C. E.; Veil, J. A. Produced Water Volumes and Management Practices in the United States; ANL/EVS/R-09/1; 2009.
[2] Bureau of Reclamation, Oil and Gas Produced Water Management and Beneficial Use in the Western United States. In Department of the Interior, Ed. Science and Technology Report No 157: 2011; p 129.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Bureau of Reclamation Review

The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Guidance for the evaluation of produced water as an alternative water supply (interim, PDF, 2.3MB)
By Dr. Katharine Dahm and Dr. Katie Guerra
Report completed on May 07, 2013

The oil and gas industry is both a consumer and a producer of water. Large amounts of water are used for hydraulic fracturing of subsurface formations to enhance petroleum production. Additionally, water that naturally exists in subsurface formations with hydrocarbon resources is brought to the surface during oil and gas extraction; this water is termed produced water. In arid and rural areas, water sourcing for the energy industry pose challenges for local and regional water managers.

EUCI_Produced Water Management in the West_Produced Water Reuse Case Studies_BOR (interim, PDF, 2.0MB)
By Dr. Katharine Dahm and Dr. Katie Guerra
Publication completed on June 23, 2013

EUCI Produced Water Management in the West
Conference May 21 - 22nd, 2013 Denver, CO

Presentation: Produced Water Reuse Case Studies
This presentation covers industry case studies of produced water management projects.

EUCI_Produced Water Management in the West_Water Management Planning Guidelines_BOR (interim, PDF, 2.6MB)
By Dr. Katharine Dahm and Dr. Katie Guerra
Publication completed on June 23, 2013

EUCI Produced Water Management in the West
Conference May 21 - 22nd, 2013 Denver, CO

Presentation: Water Management Planning Guidelines
Water management is a crucial and multifaceted element of every project. This presentation assesses water needs, sources, and transport. It discusses alternative water sourcing and reuse. The presentation describes flowback and produced water management. It also addresses treatment for beneficial use applications.

Guidance to Evaluate Water Use and Production in the Oil and Gas Industry (final, PDF, 859KB)
By Katharine Dahm
Report completed on March 24, 2014

Oil and gas production requires large amounts of water to stimulate subsurface formations for petroleum production. In arid areas of the western U.S., meeting water demands for hydraulic fracturing poses challenges for local and regional water managers. This document provides guidance to water managers on evaluating water use and production in the oil and gas sector of the energy industry.

Produced Water Treatment Primer: Case Studies of Treatment Applications (final, PDF, 3.8MB)
By Dr. Katharine Dahm and Michelle Chapman
Report completed on August 18, 2014

This document catalogs advanced water treatment technologies currently used in the oil and gas industry. General information is included on a number of categories of applied technologies, including: a brief technology description, applicable contaminants removed, removal mechanisms, and qualitative notes on advantages and disadvantages. Case study examples also show technology applications. Operational experience and performance data are provided for case study examples where available.

Produced Water Treatment and Management for Oil and Gas Production in the Western United States (final, PDF, 433KB)
By Katharine Dahm
Publication completed on September 30, 2014

This bulletin summarizes the research results and potential application to Reclamation's mission.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20