Gov. Fallin forms fact-finding group to study reuse of ‘produced water’

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin announced this week the formation of a fact-finding work group to look at ways that water produced in oil and natural gas operations may be recycled or reused instead of being injected into underground disposal wells.

The Water for 2060 Produced Water Working Group will be charged with discussing opportunities and challenges associated with treating produced water for beneficial uses, such as industrial use or crop irrigation, Fallin said. 

Attention will be focused primarily on how water produced from oil and gas activities in north-central Oklahoma can be reused.

“Opening appropriate and environmentally responsible avenues for beneficial use of reclaimed produced water will require coordination across industry sectors and regulatory agencies,” said Fallin, who made the announcement during the 36th Annual Oklahoma Governor’s Water Conference and Research Symposium underway in Norman.

“In addition to the opportunities to save fresh water by reusing and recycling oil- and gas-produced water, I’m equally interested in looking at alternatives to deep well disposal of this resource,” she said. “What a win-win for all if we can turn wasted water into a useful resource, while at the same time reducing seismic activity caused by deep well injection.”

The panel will be a non-regulatory, fact-finding work group focused on identifying regulatory, technical and economic barriers to produced water reuse.

Fallin named J.D. Strong, director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, to serve as chair.
Other members will represent agriculture, power generators, public water supply systems, oil and gas associations, industrial and commercial water users and environmental non-governmental organizations, along with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Reuse and recycling is practiced by oil and gas companies in areas like Pennsylvania where disposal wells are not available and in parts of west Texas where freshwater is more expensive and harder to find.

But in most of Oklahoma, freshwater is available and relatively inexpensive. And disposal wells are available to handle the produced water.

Nearly 1.5 billion barrels of produced water were disposed underground in Oklahoma in 2014.  Underground injection of produced water is correlated with recent earthquakes in Oklahoma and has led to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission reducing disposal volumes in certain areas.

Several energy producers have developed facilities across Oklahoma for recycling produced water and using it to hydraulically fracture new wells. They are also taking steps to limit their use of treated or fresh water.

Fallin said the implications of produced water being injected into disposal wells at current levels should also be addressed as part of Oklahoma’s ongoing water planning.

The Water for 2060 Advisory Council’s recommendations for the energy and industry sector include promoting the industrial use of marginal quality waters, such as produced water, and to work on increasing the sharing of information and supplies between energy and industry water users.