Recycling fracking water a 'game-changer'
WATFORD CITY -- The technology is now available to allow oil companies to recycle water used for hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota, industry representatives said Tuesday.
But implementing that technology in the Bakken will take time as operators adjust to the new methods and regulators respond with new permitting rules.
Oil service companies Halliburton and Nuverra Environmental Services held an event in Watford City on Tuesday for industry leaders to learn more about a new system that could reduce the amount of fresh water being used for oil production in North Dakota.
The oil industry used about 5.5 billion gallons of fresh water in North Dakota in 2012, according to the North Dakota State Water Commission.
In recent years, Halliburton told its customers that hydraulic fracturing required fresh water, said Walter Dale, strategic business manager for water management solutions.
But technology advancements have changed that, and Halliburton is now promoting a system it says can reuse water that is injected into deep underground formations in North Dakota.
The system can reduce the fresh water usage, reduce truck traffic and reduce disposal costs, providing environmental benefits and saving operators an estimated $100,000 to $400,000 per well, Dale said.
"It just makes sense," Dale said.
In fracking, the fresh water is mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped at high pressures into the underground formation to extract oil and gas. Some of that water returns to the surface and must be pumped into disposal wells constructed to ensure the waste does not contaminate drinking water sources.
Companies also use a similar injection process to dispose what is known as produced water, which comes up with the oil and has a high salinity content.
Recycling the water would cut down the amount of wastewater that will need to be disposed.
Nuverra, formerly Power Fuels, is partnering with Halliburton to handle the logistics of implementing the technology.
"We believe this is a significant game-changer," said Mark Johnsrud, CEO of Nuverra. "We think this has a long-term, meaningful impact to the industry.
As more wells are drilled in the Bakken, a tremendous amount of water will be required, Johnsrud said.
"If we take a look at this industry over time, we have to take a look at how we become sustainable," Johnsrud said.
Nuverra is developing a site 12 miles east of Watford City that will store and treat the water for reuse. The company is working with the North Dakota Industrial Commission and expects to begin operating the facility within a month, Johnsrud said.
Dave Hvinden, field operations supervisor for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said state regulators are in favor of recycling water, but are reviewing the process to ensure that it's done safely.
A major concern for regulators is that the water that's being recycled -- which has a high salinity content -- is safely stored with adequate containment in the event that a tank leaks, Hvinden said.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission is developing a new administrative rule that relates to permitting of such treatment facilities, Hvinden said.
Three or four oil companies have expressed interest in using the new technology, Johnsrud said, and several operators in the Bakken attended the event to learn more about it.
Jeremy Myers, an operations superintendent with Hess Corp., said the technology looks good, but implementing it will depend on the logistics and availability of the recycled water.
"I think everyone's going to be interested in it," Myers said.
Johnsrud said he anticipates that companies will first test out the new technology for one or two wells and evaluate the results before adopting it on a large scale.
"We think this is going to take some time," Johnsrud said.
Halliburton has set a goal of reducing the amount of fresh water the oil industry uses in North America by 25 percent by the end of 2014, but that depends on oil companies getting on board with the new technology, Dale said.