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From Fossil To Fuel™
From Fossil To Fuel™

Episode 10 · 2 years ago

Episode 9 - Water

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

We use a lot of water in hydraulic fracturing. Why do we use it and what impacts does this have?

My name is Brennan McDougall and I'm a professional engineer. Or the last decade I've worked in many different facets of the oil and gas industry. While I have a pretty solid technical background in oil and gas, I don't really know a whole lot about the other non technical departments that help run an oiling gas company. Recently I took a course to help develop my business acumen and better understand how the financial side of the business works. What a novel concept to educate the technical people on the business and financial side. I thought it would be a really cool idea to return the favor and educate the non technical people on the technical side. This is how the concept from fossil to fuel was born. Through these twenty four episodes, we will take a journey from how oil and gas was formed millions of years ago to how it is refined into the fuel that runs our cars and keeps our homes. Come join me on this adventure as we learn how the oiling gas industry operates from fossil to feel. Think about a for leader or Gallon Jug. It takes about two hundred and fifty of the those to make up one cubic meter the average amount of water required to frack a horizontal shale gas well, but take somewhere between five hundred thousand to two million milk jugs and could go as high as twenty five million for some of the bigger wells. To put that in context, twenty five million milk jugs is equivalent to forty Olympic sized swimming pools. That's one well. Those numbers add up when you consider that there are tens of thousands...

...of wells that have been hydraulically fractured in North America. A somewhat recent study by a group called skytruth calculated that between January two thousand and eleven and August two thousand and twelve, so about a year and a half, the US used at least two hundred and fifty million cubic meters, or one hundred thousand swimming pools worth, of water to frack for oil and gas, with Texas accounting for almost half of that. It goes without saying, then, that when we talk about hydraulic fracturing, we need to be talking about water. When talking about water, we need to focus on three key areas water source, water logistics and water disposal. Water source is the most common topic see it in the media because it is the one that impacts us directly, or at least is the one that is the most visible. Most fract jobs rely on fresh water for three main reasons. Firstly, produced or recycled water can be high and solids and salt content, which the solids and the salt can react negatively with some of the chemicals that we use during the frack. This effect can actually increase the amount of chemicals needed when stimulating the well. When I say stimulating the well, really what I mean is fracking the well. That's another term for fracking. The second reason is that often the produced water sources are not within close proximity of where hydraulic fracturing operations are located. The farther away that produced water sources from the wells requiring stimulation, the more challenging and costly the logistics can be in storing and transporting the produced water. Thirdly, current regulations, and it's obviously depends on where you're operating, but generally...

...speaking, current regulations around produced water can limit the volume of water stored and how it's transported. This is because of the solids and salt that are in it, among other things that we talked about earlier. So this in turn limits the maximum reuse potential in situations where produced water volumes are within close proximity to operations. Kind of handicaps you. Due to increasing pressure from the community and regulatory bodies, boiling gas companies are looking for ways to both reduce the total amount of water required when stimulating a well, while also reducing our reliance on fresh, fresh water. As a result, we're starting to see more water usage from alternative sources, including sailing or brackish ground water. So sailing or brackish usually just means salty treated municipal wastewater or industrial wastewater and the inclusion of produced water. It's still a small fraction of the total volume of water used, but the oil and gas industry does seem to be heading in there a direction here, with some areas further ahead than others. Remember, boiling gas companies are driven by their shareholders, who, of course, want to make the most money that they can. Fresh water is generally the cheapest option, so going to produced or recycled water require some external pressure. The other thing that we have to remember too, and this is generally speaking, is that there is a positive correlation between water volume and oil and gas production, meaning that, generally speaking, there's a trend that shows the more water you pump, the more oil and gas you can get out of your wells. Obviously there's going to be a limit to that, but this all also is working against what we're trying to achieve here, because if we're trying to cut back water volumes, it's not as simple as just saying okay, well,...

...we'll just pump us water, because if you want to appease your shareholders and have a profitable company, you need to be making oil and gas, and what we're saying here is that in order to make oil and gas you need a certain amount of water and generally more is better. So it's kind of finding that happy medium between the two where you've got enough water to frack, you're well but you're being environmentally responsible. So let's talk more about the different sources for water and get a little bit into detail about where they come from. So for fresh water, we're generally looking at water bodies, so this is lakes, rivers, streams, underground aquifers should be accessed through water wells an alternative to fresh water that we talked about, for was brackish or sailine groundwater. So this is water from deep underground aquifers or water wells that is very salty in therefore not suitable for drinking by people or livestock and can't be used for farming. Treated municipal or treated industrial wastewater includes fresh water that was used at some point either in our homes or within an industrial plant first and that has since been treated for either displ Lezal to the environment or, in this case, reuse for hydraulic fracturing operations. Recycled flow back water means that you treat and reuse the water that you've previously fract with. So after we pump the water down the well the first time, it goes into the Rock and a portion of that flows back up the well, which is why we call it flow back water. So a portion of that will come back as flow back when you start to flow the oil and gas for the first time, after you've done frack in a well. This water that you're flowing back now can then be set aside and recycled as a portion of the water required...

...for the next well to be fract so side note here. We don't flow back a hundred percent of the water that we pump so it's not as simple as in some industrial situations where you're recycling ninety nine percent of your water, because it's a closed loop and the water just flows around and around and around. In this case, if we're pumping down a hundred cubes of water, generally speaking, at least in my experience, I would say you're getting less than twenty five percent back and sometimes significantly less than twenty five percent back. So you still have to make up a whole bunch of new water. And that's why this water demand is so high, is because, even though we're trying to recycle water, you might only be recycling like twenty or twenty five percent of what you started with. See, you still have to make up the other seventy five percent or more. Produced water generally refers to salty water that was already stored deep below the Earth surface in the Rock, with the oil and gas to start with. So it was already there to begin with. We're just producing it along with the oil and gas. Sometimes you'll hear produced water called brine, which, for those of you who like to cook like me, means salty water. So produced water or brine will have all kinds of other particles in it. Refer to these as total dissolved solids, or tds, so that would be things like sodium or chloride, which is the salts, and total suspended salids, or T S S, which would be things like sand or clay particles, the ones that don't dissolve. When you talk to someone about the cost of cleaning up produced water so you can frack with it, the first thing they'll ask you is how much dissolved solids are in it, because that will influence how expensive it will be to treat. So tieing this back, because fresh water has very little or almost no dissolve solids. It is, like I said earlier, usually the cheapest option...

...because there's effectively no treatment that's required. So that's water source. Water Logistics or water transport is always a major issue and most companies will have someone or an hire team who's pretty much really only dealing with this. So we've identified our water source and we know where we drill the well, but how do we get it there? Where do we store it? If you live somewhere fairly north, how do you prevent it from freezing in the winter? What kind of permits do you need to get? These are some of the key considerations and are very important because no water equals no frack. So the first question is how do we get water from Point Day to point b? If it's a shorter distance, you can build a temporary water pipeline. In some cases companies are able to move water through temporary pipe up to forty kilometers. If it's longer, you'll probably have to truck it, which is going to be very expensive. Both options have costs and complications with them, but generally most people off pipeline, if possible than economic, or at least try to pick a water source where you can use a pipeline. So then, because it's close enough. So once you get the water from point a to point B, you need to figure out where you're going to store it and how much you're going to be able to store. Storage is important because in some cases your source can only supply water to a certain instantaneous rate, where the frack may require a higher rate than the source can deliver. To make up this difference, a certain amount of water inventory is acquired, usually via storage ponds or above ground tanks. To think of it this way, and give you an example. Let's say you're really thirsty and you're drinking out of a glass by a Straw. You want someone continuously filling your glass, fast enough...

...so that you don't run out, but slow enough so that you don't overfill. You probably don't need a glass the size of a keg, but you don't want a shot glass either. You also want to make sure that the person pouring the waters reliable, because God forbid if something goes wrong when you're really thirsty. For those who live in Texas or any southern area, consider yourself lucky. You never have to worry about water freezing most of the time because water has a very high heat capacity, which means the heat required to make a change in the temperature. It takes a lot of time and specifically a lot of energy to heat it up, which means a lot of money. For example, are has a relatively low heat capacity, which is why the heating bills for houses are relatively cheap. If our houses were full of water, our monthly heating bills would be thousands of dollars. Anyone who owns a hot tub and has to pay to heat the water in the hot tub even though it's a small volume relative to the size of your house, can appreciate what I'm talking about, because just heating the water in a hot tub is expensive. The point of trying to make is that heating water is expensive and it's another variable that has to be considered. There are all kinds of permits and applications required. Obviously, area dependent. There's going to be a wide range in North America depending on where you're fracking on what permits or applications, if any, are required. But when dealing with water, there are certainly going to be some sort of requirements or restrictions, and this is because the government is trying to do their best to manage water usage so that oil companies don't drain rivers and lakes to supply water for hydraulic fracturing. This can be even more difficult in areas where water is scarce or in drought years. Ultimately, the availability, or more so the scarcity of water is a limiting factor in a lot of areas in North America, so the permitting process can...

...take some time. The least glamorous part of this whole section is water disposal. This is in reference to any unused water that is left over and the water that is flowed back, referred to as we talked about before, flow back water, which has essentially now been contaminated predominantly with salt. What I mean is that when you take fresh water and you pump it down into the rocks below or the formation, it doesn't come back as fresh water. The water washes over the Rock and dissolves any salts that are down there, mixes in with naturally occurring salt water that's stored within the rocks with the only gas. It's kind of like if you take a jug of water and down up some coulid mix and sugar into the water and shake it around. It doesn't come back out as playing water anymore. Now you've got Ko laid government regulations state that you can't just leave the produced water there or dump it out. Thankfully, or at least you can't do that anymore. I'm sure maybe there was times in our past where that may have flown, but that does not fly anymore. You have to take care of it if you can't reuse it, which generally means disposal. So usually what happens is you get a trucking company to transport it to a properly regulated facility where you pay a fee to have someone treat it and then either pump it into an underground disposal well or reuse it for agriculture. Hey guys, if you like today's episode, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. Unlike most podcasts that release an episode every week or two, I did all twenty four at once, Netflix style, so you can listen to them all right now if you just hit subscribe. If you like today's episode, make sure you leave me a comment or thumbs...

...up, or you can email me at from fossil to fuel at GMAILCOM, or look me up on Linkedin. I'm Brendan McDougall.

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