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Gas drilling companies seeking better ways to recycle, reuse water

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colorado – Gas drilling companies are working to figure out better ways to recycle and reuse water in the drilling process that may make evaporation pits “a thing of the past,” an industry spokesman said Thursday.

Doug Dennison, environmental and governmental affairs representative for the Bill Barrett Corp. spoke on water use in gas drilling at the monthly Garfield County Energy Advisory Board (EAB), held Thursday in Rifle.

“Typically, 60 to 80 percent of the water used for completions is recycled and reused,” said Dennison. By recycling water for multiple wells, the company can avoid the use of fresh water for every well.



“I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement in reuse and treatment,” he said.

Dennison said the company is using pipelines to shuttle water from one part of its well field to another, and using closed-loop systems that capture water at the drilling pad, all in an effort to cut down on the number of trucks operating on local roads and highways.



Also making a presentation on the subject was Tyler Bittner, an engineer for WPX Energy.

“If you lived around here, you saw the endless lines of tanker trucks going up and down the roads and highways,” said Dennison, referring to the standard operating procedures he said were used by the industry as late as 2005.

Since then, he said, “a lot has changed in how we deal with water.”

Dennison noted that the management of water has become “a kind of new skill set” in the gas patch.

“Their job is to manage water, and … it’s a big job,” Dennison remarked.

In answer to a question from a local resident, Dennison said a typical well uses between 2,500 and 3,000 42-gallon barrels of water in the drilling process. That equates to as much as 126,000 gallons of water per well. Water is pumped from streams or rivers or can be trucked in from other areas.

Dennison did not address the amount of water used in fracking, the process in which millions of gallons of water are pumped into a well bore to break up the deep rock formations and let the oil and gas flow more easily to the surface.

But Barrett spokesman Jim Felton, in a telephone interview on Friday, said the company’s fracking operations usually use between 2.1 million and 4.2 million gallons of water.

“Virtually all of that is reused or recycled,” Felton said.

In his talk to the EAB, Dennison explained that Barrett has six tank farms where flowback water is stored, treated and used multiple times in the fracking process. Flowback water is the fracking water that comes back up from a well once the gas-bearing rocks have been fractured and the pressure released.

Barrett also has six large water impoundments lined with two 30-millimeter liners separated by a layer of fill material, he said, where flowback water is stored for reuse.

The tanks have pressure-relief systems in place to release gas pressure that builds up inside the tanks. These emissions are captured and piped, he said, to a “combuster that will burn any hydrocarbon emissions that come off of that facility.”

“At some point, it is unusable,” Dennison said of the water that is being recycled and reused.

When that point is reached, he said, the liquid, which is high in salts, heavy metals and other dissolved solids, is either piped or trucked to disposal sites elsewhere in the West, or it is pumped into injection wells.

He said injection wells normally reach deeper into the ground than wells used to extract oil and gas, so that produced water does not mix with the oil and gas pools.

Injection wells are coming into increasing use in the Piceance Basin, which covers western Colorado, eastern Utah and southern Wyoming, Dennison said.

Barrett has four injection wells south of Silt, and may sink more into the ground if increased storage is needed.

He conceded that some companies still use evaporation ponds to dispose of waste water, but added, “I think that’s a thing of the past.”

The full presentations by Dennison and Bittner, as well as the remainder of the EAB meeting, will be televised on Rifle’s Cable Channel 10 at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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