Professor offers salt solution to fracturing problem

The enormous amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing draws  criticism from environmentalists and raises  costs for the industry, but at least one academic sees  a simple solution.

“We start with fresh water and then we make it saltwater,” said Stephen A. Holditch, director of the energy institute at Texas A&M University, referring to current practices. “Why the hell not start with saltwater?”

Holditch posed the question at the 21st Century Energy Technology Conference & Trade Show hosted by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers at the George R. Brown Convention Center this week.

While the idea seems simple enough, companies would have to test and develop new approaches to fracturing  jobs if they substituted salt water for fresh water, executives said.

But developing a way to use salt water from the start of a fracturing  job could provide substantial environmental benefits, Holditch said.

Fracturing can require  up to 4 million gallons of fresh water per well, Holditch said.

With thousands of wells drilled annually, that can draw a lot of water from other uses, he said.

“All we need is one more chemist on location to tweak the recipe and we can start with saltwater and we can just eliminate the use of fresh water in application,” Holditch said. “We’re working at Texas A&M to try to push that forward, along with other people.”

Salt water could be obtained for oil and gas operations by drilling separate wells into underground salt water reserves and moving them to other locations, much as fresh water now  is  loaded and trucked to drilling sites.