Let Me Move You - The Bakken's Still-Growing Water Midstream Sector

The Permian is a beehive of activity on the burgeoning water midstream front — the pipelines, saltwater disposal wells and other assets being built to facilitate the delivery of water to new wells for hydraulic fracturing and the transport of “produced water” from the lease to disposal or treatment sites. But the Bakken — arguably the birthplace of the water midstream sector nearly a decade ago — is no slouch, and a model of sorts for the infrastructure build-out now under way in the Permian. The volume of water needed for Bakken well completions is up sharply in recent years; more important still, the region is generating more than 1 MMb/d of produced water, and producers and water midstreamers alike are building new takeaway pipelines and drilling new SWDs to more efficiently deal with it. Today, we discuss water- and produced-water-related infrastructure in one of the U.S.’s largest production regions.

The trends toward longer horizontal wells and more intense well completions have resulted in the need for sharply higher volumes of fresh, treated or recycled water (and frac sand) in U.S. shale plays (see Faster Horses). Our understanding is that the completion of a typical horizontal well in the Bakken today requires 200 Mbbl or more of water — eight to 10 times as much as was needed to complete the much shorter laterals that were common in the early years of the Shale Era. All of that water needs to be delivered to the well site during the completion process — not an easy task in relatively dry western North Dakota.

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Producers face another water-related challenge that’s much bigger and longer-term. As we said in Splish Splash, RBN’s Permian-focused Drill Down Report on water infrastructure, significant volumes of salty, minerals-rich produced water emerge from wells with crude and associated gas. But while most of the produced water from conventional wells can be injected into pressure-depleted oil reservoirs nearby for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), the produced water from the unconventional, horizontal wells driving new production in the Permian, the Bakken and other shale plays cannot be. Instead, the produced water from these leases needs to be transported — often long distances — to saltwater disposal wells (SWDs). SWDs are drilled specifically to receive large volumes of produced water and inject it into non-oil-producing geologic layers so that it does not foul the oil-producing layers or layers that produce potable water.

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