Strategies to reduce terminal water consumption of hydraulic fracture stimulation in the Barnett Shale



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Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracture stimulation have enabled the economic development of unconventional resource plays. An average horizontal well in the Barnett Shale requires 3 to 4 million gallons of fresh water, 90% of which is used for hydraulic fracture stimulation. While the water consumption of Barnett Shale operations is less than 1% of total Region C consumption, extended drought conditions and competing demands for water resources are placing pressure on operators to reduce terminal water consumption. Strategies which reduce water requirements associated hydraulic fracture stimulation without compromising the efficiency and cost of energy production are essential in developing a comprehensive policy on energy-water management.

Recycling and reuse technologies were evaluated on the basis of performance, cost, and capacity to treat reclaimed flowback water and oilfield brine. Recycling flowback fluids for future hydraulic fracture applications is the most practical repurposing of oilfield waste. The low TDS content of flowback derived from water-based fracs permits multiple treatment options. Mobile thermal distillation technology has emerged as the prevailing technique for recycling flowback water, yielding maximum water savings and reduced operating costs. The estimated cost of recycling flowback water by thermal distillation is $3.35/bbl. Compared to the current cost of disposal, recycling provides an opportunity to minimize waste and reduce the fresh water requirements of hydraulic fracture stimulation at an incremental cost.

The stewardship role of the Texas Legislature is to protect the water resources of the state and to facilitate the Regional Water Planning Process, ensuring future water needs are met. The support and participation of the Legislature and other planning entities is critical in advancing the energy-water nexus. As operators pursue innovative water management practices to reduce terminal water consumption in the oilfield, the Barnett Shale positions itself as a model for sustainable water use in the development of unconventional shale resources. The cost of recycling and reuse technology limits the participation of small and mid-size operators who possess the greatest market share of the Barnett Shale. Funding for research and implementation of water-conscious strategies such as shared recycling facilities, CO2 capture and storage, and pipeline infrastructure would create multi-user opportunities to promote conservation and reduce net consumption of fresh water supplies. Through the integration of technology and policy, terminal water consumption in the Barnett Shale can be greatly diminished.