Recycling water is good until it’s expensive

Oil companies are trying to use more recycled water for their drilling operations, but only until it gets too expensive, a Halliburton executive said.

That’s because treatment of water used in fracking can be especially costly, said Stephen Ingram, Halliburton’s technology and marketing manager for North America, speaking during the Total Energy USA Conference at George R. Brown Convention Center.

“We want to do as minimal of recycling as absolutely possible on flowback water,” Ingram said, referring to efforts to minimize expensive treatment of water while attempting to recycle more of it, “because anything I do to it is cost.”

Reusing water in hydraulic fracturing requires removing minerals and other sediment, a process that can dramatically increase the cost of fracking, Ingram said. In addition, the recycled water is not as effective using current methods, he said.

A recent project that used 50 percent recycled water involved several drilling stoppages that resulted in lost time and substantially added costs to the effort, expenses that typically would not have been involved with using fresh water.

However, the industry’s use of massive quantities of fresh water remains a concern, he said. A single fracturing job can use more than 6 million gallons of water, along with millions of pounds of sand and other materials.

When water is used in fracking, it is often disposed of in wastewater wells, drilled deep into the earth and leaving a previously drinkable resource tainted and buried underground. Tens of thousands of fracturing jobs are conducted in the United States annually.

That has led to an effort to cut down on fresh water use, which is also a significant cost involved with drilling operations.

There are other options, which are also being explored, including using salty water drawn up from well below groundwater resources in most areas, Ingram said.

While salty water is not as efficient as fresh water with current drilling methods, changes to the chemistry of fracking fluid mixes can make the resource more effective, he said.

The main challenge with salt water has to do with its hampering of friction-reducing chemicals added to the fracking fluid, Ingram said.

But Halliburton has developed new chemicals that will assist in overcoming this challenge, a development that could set the standard for the oil field services industry, he said.

“You can take really bad water and you can frack with these now,” he said of the new friction-reducing agents developed for use with salty water.