Wipe Out! - How Will Permian E&Ps Dispose of All That Produced Water?

Exploration and production companies (E&Ps) in shale basins have a water problem — in fact, they have three water problems. Two are upfront well-completion costs: sourcing water for the frac job and disposal of the flowback water from the frac job.  These are nontrivial issues, but they pale in comparison to a much bigger problem – produced water – the water that always comes along with the oil and natural gas out of a well. It is a lot of water; on average in the U.S., somewhere around five to six barrels of water are produced for every barrel of oil that comes out of the ground, more from some basins than others. The Permian, for example, produces six to eight barrels of water per barrel of crude. That’s over 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools full of water out of the Permian alone each day. And because this water is chock-full of minerals, petroleum residue and especially salt (which makes it brine), producers must dispose of the water in a safe, environmentally responsible manner. They are doing that today. But what happens if Permian production doubles — a distinct possibility. Today we continue our surfing-themed series on the effect of sand and water costs on producer economics with a focus on produced water in the U.S.’s hottest shale play.

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