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At an oilfield in Texas Apache Corp has become the first company to completely eliminate its reliance on freshwater, a potentially huge breakthrough that could add decades to the life of the fracking industry in the US. This is because each fracking well uses millions of gallons of water, and the main constraint to the future of the industry was not the lack of reserves in the ground, but the lack of water needed to access those reserves.
In the Barnhart region of Irion County, Apache is meeting all of its water needs when drilling Wolfcamp shale wells, by taking brackish water from the Santa Rosa aquifer, and recycling waste water from wells and fracking sites.
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Apache started experimenting with different techniques to reduce water consumption around a year ago, and has so far managed to drill 50 freshwaterless wells, expecting to boost that number to 70 by the end of the year.
Normally waste water produced at oil and gas wells and as a result of the fracking process is transported to be stored in underground disposal wells, but Apache now treats that water with chemicals to remove unwanted minerals such as iron, and then stored in giant containers before being reused in the next fracking operation.
Lucian Wray, the production manager for Apache’s South Permian region, stated, “we’re not using freshwater out here. We are recycling 100 percent of our produced water. We don't dispose of any of it.”
This new approach will prove hugely useful in areas that are prone to drought, and will play a big part in enabling unrestricted fracking in much of Texas, which is still suffering from the effects of the severe drought in the summer of 2011.
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As well as relieving pressure on local freshwater supplies, Apache’s method helps to reduce operating costs at fracking wells. It costs the company just 29 cents to treat a barrel of water in order to prepare it for reuse, but $2.50 a barrel to have it trucked away for safe disposal.
Reuters claims that a few other companies have begun to use brackish water and recycle their waste water in an effort to reduce the strain on freshwater sources, but unfortunately it is not a common practice.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com