News Feature | January 3, 2023

Fracking Wastewater May Be The Next Front In Fight Against Growing Drought

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


With water scarcity a growing challenge for consumers around the country, industries of all kinds are working to ease the burdens they put on supplies. Soon, in Texas, that could include some of the most notorious water consumers of all.

“For now, hydraulic fracturing in arid West Texas uses large amounts of fresh aquifer water to crack open subterranean shales, unleashing a mixture of oil, gas and fossil brine 10 times as salty as the sea,” Inside Climate News reported. “Increasingly, frackers are starting to reuse that brine, easing their burden on aquifers.”

Oil and gas operations that leverage hydraulic fracturing have frequently come under the scrutiny of environmental advocates who argue that the wastewater they create, known as produced water, is dangerously contaminated and pollutes drinking water sources. And now, as water scarcity has become increasingly challenging, they have come under scrutiny for their consumption as well.

But operations like XRI Holdings, an oilfield wastewater recycler in Texas, is demonstrating that the industry has a chance to significantly reduce its water consumption.

“XRI announced a 230-mile expansion to its existing 450-mile Permian pipeline network,” according to Inside Climate News. “Unlike other Permian pipelines, these carry water from oilfields to treatment plants and back, linking the major oil producers’ batteries of tanks. XRI, based in Houston, is also adding three more treatment plants to its existing 30.”

Ultimately, produced water recycling will only expand among fracking operations if it is compelled by regulators or by economic incentive. A Texas consortium recently found that underground disposal of produced water is still cheaper than recycling it, but expanded infrastructure could change that.

“‘The market is so quickly changing… We see quite frankly significant cost savings available to the customer with recycling,’” said XRI’s Matthew Gabriel, per KFDM. “It took time for the pipe network to link up enough wastewater producers and reusers, he said. Now, customers can send off waste and draw new water from a system on site, no trucks involved.”

If more oil and gas operations in Texas and beyond can realize cost benefits from recycling their produced water, the trend could ease the burdens that water scarcity is imposing on us all.

To read more about how hydraulic fracturing operations handle their wastewater, visit Water Online’s Produced Water Solutions Center.