Treatment of Produced Water for Beneficial Use in the Western United States

Project ID: 3180
Principal Investigator: Katherine Guerra
Research Topic: Desalination and Water Treatment
Priority Area Assignments: 2011 (Advanced Water Treatment)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010
Keywords: None

Research Question

* What treatment technologies are available to treat water produced from oil and gas extraction and what technologies are appropriate for each classification of produced water and each intended beneficial use of the water?

* What type of produced water treatment system is best suited for the Jicarilla Apache Reservation extraction industries and how does it perform in the field?

Need and Benefit

Produced water is considered a waste byproduct by the oil and gas industry. On the average in the United States, 7 times more water, by volume, is produced in the extraction and cleaning process than oil and gas. The majority of coal bed natural gas extraction in the United States occurs in the arid Westerm United States. Produced water can provide a new source of water for communities and industry near the wells while the wells are in use.

Generally, the water produced during oil and gas extraction is either injected back into the formation to wash out more oil or discharged to the surface, where it causes environmental problems. Treating for beneficial use is complicated. The water may actually belong to the people with water rights to aquifers in area. When the water rights issue is settled, there is still the problem of contamination. In some areas, the water cannot be re-injected "as-is," because of the high scaling potential. Pumping the water back into the formation after it has been equilibrated with the atmosphere can plug the formation with sulfates or carbonates. This type of water must be stabilized or discharged to the surface, which salts out the local soils and/or increases the salt loading in downstream rivers.

The geologic units in the San Juan Basin on the Jicarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico, contain substantial quantities of oil and gas. These formations also contain significant ground water supplies with poor quality water. These water supplies could be treated and used to augment the water supply in the area. Areas within the San Juan Basin and the Rio Grande basins were identified by Reclamation as potentially having a water supply crisis by 2025. The scope of this project will involve finding the most appropriate treatment technologies for the produced water and demonstrating the capability of the technology to treat the water for beneficial use. This project will involve laboratory and pilot scale testing of the applicable treatment technology. We will also provide some preliminary cost estimates for a full scale treatment facility.

Because produced water contains emulsified oil and dissolved hydrocarbons, it is difficult to use a membrane process for desalting. Current commercial membranes become fouled by oil very quickly. This proposal will also test a variation on new fouling resistant membrane coatings developed for the Navy for use in shipboard treatment of blackwater for their ability to handle produced water.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Independent Peer Review

The following documents were reviewed by qualified Bureau of Reclamation employees. The findings were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Produced Water in the Western United States: Geographical Distribution, Occurrence, and Composition (final, PDF, 112KB)
By Katie Benko and Jorg Drewes
Publication completed on January 31, 2008

This paper describes the water quality characteristics of produced water from both conventional oil and gas and coal bed methane by geographic location and producing basin. The volumes of produced water generated are also tabulated. This paper was used as the basis for subsequent produced water work on treatment technology selection and evaluation of beneficial use alternatives.

Document ID 136: this document contains protected information and it cannot be freely downloaded from Contact the Principal Investigator to request a copy of this document.

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.

Oil and Gas Produced Water Management in the Western United States (final, PDF, 6.6MB)
By Katherine Guerra
Report completed on October 14, 2011

This document contains a comprehensive review of produced water quality, description of beneficial use and treatment options for produced water, and three detailed case studies that describe potential beneficial use scenarios for a variety of produced water applications.

Not Reviewed

The following documents were not reviewed. Statements made in these documents are those of the authors. The findings have not been verified.

Geographical Assessment of the Potential for Beneficial Use of Produced Water (final, PDF, 12.2MB)
By Katie Benko and Steve Dundorf
Report completed on November 05, 2007

This presentation was given at the 2007 International Petroleum Environmental Conference in Houston, TX.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20