Treatment and Beneficial Use of Produced Water in the western U.S.

Project ID: 3259
Principal Investigator: Katharine Dahm
Research Topic: Desalination and Water Treatment
Priority Area Assignments: 2011 (Advanced Water Treatment), 2012 (Advanced Water Treatment)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2011 and 2012
Keywords: None

Research Question

In many areas of the western U.S., produced water from oil and gas operations can serve as a drought-proof, new water supply, relieving the stress on conventional water supplies. This project will address the following research questions:

What constituents present in produced water prohibit the use of this water for beneficial uses such as streamflow augmentation, irrigation, livestock watering, and municipal and industrial use?

Can a produced water management model using operations research techniques be developed to identify cost-efficient produced water projects?

Need and Benefit

Water exists naturally in subsurface formation along with oil and gas. During the oil and gas extraction process, on average, large quantities of water, referred to as produced water, are generated. Estimates for the volume of water extracted are roughly 5 billion gallons per day from onshore U.S. operations. Produced water is considered a waste byproduct by the oil and gas industry. Generally, the produced water is either injected back into the formation to wash out more oil or discharged to the surface where it causes environmental problems. However, in many cases, especially in the Rocky Mountain region, oil and gas production occurs in areas where there is a need for additional water supplies. If treated to appropriate standards or managed properly, produced water could serve as a "new" water supply and reduce the cost and environmental impact of energy production.

This work combines Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping of produced water occurrence and potential beneficial uses of produced water to identify a practical produced water project that results in an increased water supply for the western U.S. This work also considers the geographic distribution of water quality in terms of the water quality requirements for different types of beneficial use, including irrigation and livestock watering, streamflow augmentation, and municipal and industrial applications.

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.

Composite Geochemical Database for Coalbed Methane Produced Water Quality in the Rocky Mountain Region (interim, PDF, 3.3MB)
By Katharine Dahm
Publication completed on October 14, 2011

The attached document was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The manuscript describes coal bed methane produced water quality in terms of beneficial uses and treatment options. The water quality assessment is based upon statistical analysis of a composite database of produced water from wells in the Western United States.

Identifying Well Contamination through the use of 3-D Fluorescence Spectroscopy to Classify Coalbed Methane Produced Water (final, PDF, 1.4MB)
By Katharine Dahm
Publication completed on November 30, 2012

Production of unconventional gas resources commonly requires the use of hydraulic fracturing and chemical production well additives. Concern exists for the use of chemical compounds in gas wells due to the risk of groundwater contamination. This study focuses on a proposed method of identifying groundwater contamination from gas production.

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.

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, 2012

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

International Petroleum Environment Conference Presentation (final, PDF, 1.5MB)
By Dr. Katharine Dahm and Dr. Katie Guerra
Publication completed on November 01, 2012

Produced water is generally saline in nature and is generated in large quantities in the western United States. Disposal of produced water into fresh water sources without treatment can result in environmental contamination. Therefore, a majority of produced water is re-injected into subsurface formations for disposal, rather than treated and used for beneficial purposes such as irrigation water, livestock water, or stream flow augmentation.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20