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Produced Water in Texas: How to Grow Energy Sustainably

In the last decade, the oil and gas industry has defied its critics and naysayers who constantly claimed that the United States was running out of oil. With ingenuity, research and development, the oil and gas industry has led us nearly to energy independence. It’s been so successful that the U.S. is now exporting both oil and gas around the world. Take Texas for example: In 2009, Texas was producing 1.1 million barrels of oil a day. Fast forward to 2019: Texas is now producing 5.1 million barrels a day, an amazing accomplishment for a state running out of oil.

While this new era of shale production has many positive impacts, it also comes with many challenges. One of the most pressing issues is managing produced water. The industry is struggling with ever-growing volumes of produced water, increasing freshwater and trucking costs, and the risk of declining disposal well capacity.

However, as with any challenge, the energy industry has a roadmap to solve this problem. This roadmap is the recently released white paper by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers: “Sustainable Produced Water Policy, Regulatory Framework, and Management in the Texas Oil and Gas Industry: 2019 and Beyond.”

The white paper researchers – John Tintera, Blythe Lyons, and Kylie Wright of the Alliance – developed the most up to date, comprehensive research paper on produced water. Over the last year, they crunched the numbers, conducted interviews, and analyzed the data to reach several conclusions, including that:

“Texas’ well-developed regulatory and legal framework demonstrates its past leadership on water issues and Texas has continued making legislative and regulatory strides to ensure authority keeps pace with the rapidly evolving business models of oil and gas production and produced water.”

Another positive is the great strides the midstream water management companies have made to make recycle and reuse of produced water a viable, cost-effective option. Yet more remains to be done. With that in mind, the white paper outlines 10 recommendations based on three core principles:

  • Texas must maintain leadership and control over produced water management

  • Texas must continue to update its laws, regulations, and practices

  • The federal government must update its rules and continue discussions with its state partners

Here are the 10 recommendations:

Maintain Texas Leadership and Control over Produced Water Management:

1. Preserve Resource Conservation and Recovery Act exemption

2. Delegate National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System authority to Texas

3. Maintain Texas jurisdiction over pipelines

Continue to Update Texas Laws, Regulations, and Practices:

4. Increase interstate and associations coordination on policy

5. Revise produced water statutes and regulations

6. Prepare a roadmap for beneficial reuse outside oil and gas industry

7. Develop incentive mechanisms to lower produced water treatment costs

8. Collect and provide public access to better produced water data

Federal government Must Update its Rules and Continue Discussions with State Partners:

9. Eliminate 98th meridian policy

10. Institutionalize Texas and federal agency cooperation

In recent years, the debate over produced water was whether it is “an asset or a waste.” Currently, it looks like it isn’t a choice, but possibly both. As Texas once lead our new shale era production revolution, it now once again has a chance to lead with produced water.

Learn more about the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers white paper, sponsored by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, here:

Chris Hosek is an Energy Consultant in Austin Texas

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