Water Security and Produced Water

What does “Water Security” mean?

Water security can be defined as the ability to access sufficient quantities of clean water to maintain adequate standards of food and goods production, proper sanitation, and sustainable health care.

But we live on a water rich planet – why are we concerned about water security?

Water, in absolute terms, is not in short supply planet-wide.  But, according to the United Nations water organization, UN-Water, the total usable freshwater supply for ecosystems and humans is only about 200,000 km3 of water – less than one percent (<1%) of all freshwater resources.

tap with a light bulb - rubinetto con lampadina

The total usable freshwater supply for ecosystems and humans is less than 1 percent of all freshwater resources.

And, water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of the population increase in the last century.  Specifically, water withdrawals are predicted to increase by 50 percent by 2025 in developing countries, and 18 per cent in developed countries.  By 2025, 800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions.*

What can we do to combat water scarcity and improve water security?

We can manage our water better:  take better care of our water resources, clean up the water that mankind has polluted, and improve upon current water purification technologies clean water access systems.

For example:  in developing countries, 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply.*  Many pollutants in industrial wastes, and those in water produced by mining and oil & gas operations, have been proven to cause immediate illnesses and chronic illnesses, birth defects, and immediate or eventual death in human populations.  These pollutants have also affected crops and livestock, frequently destroying both. 

This practice of dumping industrial, mining and oil & gas wastes and “produced water” from those processes should be eliminated and the polluted water should be cleaned up.

What is produced water?

“Produced water” is an industry term to describe water that is extracted from the earth along with the oil and gas in that industry. The water produced may include water from the fossil fuel reservoir, water injected into the formation, including the high pressure water used to fracture the rock formation (fracking), and chemicals added during the production and well treatment processes.

What is in “produced” water?

Major constituents of produced water are salt, oil and grease, various other natural inorganic and organic compounds, chemical additives used in drilling and fracking, and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

For example, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report wastewater from Marcellus Shale natural gas wells that have been hydraulically fractured is 300 times higher in radiation than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s limits for industrial discharges. The Marcellus Shale formation contains significant     quantities of uranium and its daughters: radium, etc. (Interestingly, nuclear power plants in the U.S. are much more highly regulated than fracking processes – hardly any radiation emission is tolerated at nuclear utilities.)

How much produced water is produced annually?

Worldwide, the volume of produced water generated each year exceeds 70 billion barrels (1 bbl = 42 U.S. gallons), 20 billion in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, that equates to nearly 200 million barrels of produced water each and every day – enough water to flow over Niagara Falls for 3 months. It is by far the largest volume, at 98%, of the entire waste stream generated by the oil and gas industry.

Specifically, what can be found in “produced” water that may be toxic?

BTEX is one set of compounds that is of major concern.  BTEX is an acronym that stands for Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes, which are closely related. These compounds are soluble in water so produced water from the extraction of crude oil is contaminated with these compounds.

What health impacts has BTEX been known to have on humans?

Benzene is carcinogenic while Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes have harmful effects on the central nervous system. Frequently found together, the BTEX compounds can cause illness, birth defects, eventual death and even immediate death if highly concentrated. (A separate paper is available on this site about BTEX.)

What have been the options for dealing with produced water thus far?

To summarize, solutions to the produced water problem can be broadly divided into four areas: subsurface disposal, surface disposal, clean for re-use in extraction, and clean for beneficial use.

What is the ratio between oil and produced water from a typical Oil and Gas well?

Blue Barrels

Oil and gas companies spend an estimated $40 billion cleaning and/or disposing of produced water

For each barrel of oil recovered, 5 to 40 times as much water is produced, creat­ing the adage that “oil recovery is really water recovery with a bit of oil thrown in.” In fact, produced water accounts for 98% of the waste products in the oil & gas industry, and costs industry nearly $40 billion each year.

How much money do Oil and Gas Companies spend on produced water management?

Each year, in order to comply with local, state, provincial, and federal environmental laws, oil and gas companies spend an estimated $40 billion cleaning and/or disposing of produced water. Costs include transportation, pre-treatment, re-injection, and desalination, and vary widely depending upon the water’s properties, volume, and geographic location. Typical handling costs range from $2 to $10 per barrel of water, and can run as high as $15 per barrel, creating a total global addressable market of US$ 110 million per day.

What regions would benefit most from having their produced water cleaned?

Regions where water scarcity and oil & gas production intersect e.g. Southwest United States, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.

What is “Found” Water and what can be done with produced water that has been cleaned?

“Found” water is usable water that is created, or found, by cleaning “produced” water from oil and gas production that would have normally been discarded as wastewater.  “Found water” is a new water resource that can be used for agriculture, livestock and community water systems.  Crop/food production in arid regions could be increased substantially by using “found” water created by cleaning “produced” water from local oil & gas operations, mining or other industry.  In short, “found” water from “produced” water could help the global “water security” problem which in turn would help the global “food security” problem. (See additional FAQ entries on Food Security.)

What is IX Power Clean Water developing to create clean “found” water from “produced” water?

IX Power Clean Water (IX PCW) is currently refining and commercializing an already-proven technology created by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that will change how the world manages produced water from the oil & gas industry, mining industry and manufacturing. As part of a water treatment train, this new technology eliminates the organic hydrocarbons (BTEX) in produced water, enabling the water to be cleaned to the point that it can be safely used for agriculture, livestock and community water systems.  

 * From UN-Water.  http://www.unwater.org/statisticspollu.html.   

2013 copyright, the IX Power Foundation, Inc.

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