We at DGI believe that finding ways to recover the water produced by fracking is critical to the success of this industry. The world’s most prolific oil field, the Permian Basin, for example, is located in southern New Mexico, one of the driest and poorest states in the US. Drilling a single well in the Permian Basin uses more than 11 million gallons of water a day in an area that receives just 13 inches of precipitation a year. And the water “produced” in the practice is too toxic for any additional use.
“In five years, the Permian is forecast to generate 32 million barrels of produced water per day, up from four million a day currently,” according to a report released this week by the Searchlight New Mexico news organization. “By 2030, that number could rise to 38 million barrels daily, analysts say. And it will be increasingly difficult to dispose of the wastewater. Industry analysts say the basin will eventually run out of suitable places to drill disposal wells — another incentive for oil and gas operators to recycle.”
The process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, pumps massive amounts of fresh water, sand and chemicals into shale formations as deep as nearly two miles underground. The fluid cracks open the rock, releasing the oil inside. When the oil gushes to the surface, some of the water and chemicals come up too, along with salty water that remains in the ancient rock layers because this area was once all underwater in an ancient sea. For every barrel of oil produced, about four barrels of this watery mix, termed “produced water,” rushes out with it.
In 2018, the NM area of the Permian Basin generated 42 billion gallons of wastewater due to oil and gas production, the NM Environment Department reported. But so far we have no cost-effective technologies that can clean this water to sufficient standards that would allow for it to be re-used for fracking, agriculture or to boost municipal water supplies.
Companies have long dumped the contaminated wastewater into disposal wells, but we’re running out of space for those too. Fracking has been hailed as an “energy miracle” in the US, but is banned many other places because related seismic activity and the pollution it creates. Finding ways to produce clean, safe water from fracking water is essential for this extraction method to continue.