Energy-Water, Oil & Gas, Research

Produced Water Management project received runner-up for iChemE Global Awards

The Energy & Environmental Research Center, in collaboration with the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), North Dakota Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Research Program (NDIC OGRP), and Nuverra Environmental Solutions, conducted a study on the recycling of water used in oil and gas operations, also known as produced water, from oil- and gas-producing regions of North Dakota. The project evaluated new strategies and methods of saltwater disposal (SWD) well operation and produced water management. These strategies could increase the amount of produced water recycled and reused for production, reduce freshwater intensity through less freshwater consumption, and extend the life of existing injection disposal wells. This project was ultimately nominated as runner-up for the iChemE Global Awards in the Oil and Gas category, which recognizes the best project, process, or product to demonstrate chemical engineering excellence in the oil and gas sector.

Addressing Critical Challenges

One of the biggest challenges to oil and gas production is water management. Water management represents a significant technical and economic challenge for sustainable oil and gas production, as water volumes are intrinsically linked to oil production volumes. Demand for freshwater and produced water management will continue where oil and gas resources are produced. Treating produced water for reuse in North Dakota comes with challenges, such as limitations to access abundant, low-cost, fresh water and temporary storage of large water volumes of produced fluids on the surface. Other factors like high-total dissolved solids (TDS) contents containing corrosive water and hydraulic fracturing fluid flowback, which occurs when wastewater from hydraulic fracturing returns to the surface, also present challenges for produced water treatment.

Where did this Project Take Place?

This project was
conducted at the Nuverra-operated Johnsons Corner site, which was
established in 2008 as a commercial SWD facility and is home to the
Brine Extraction and Storage Facility (BEST) project.

Pioneering Practical Solutions

This project aimed to enhance the traditional approach to managing produced water through a process called geologic homogenization, conditioning, and reuse (GHCR). This concept aims to use a subsurface geologic formation as a natural medium for managing produced water recycling and reuse. Typically, produced water is transported via truck or pipeline to an injection well for disposal. While this traditional method is still the preferred approach, future challenges in water management such as increasing volumes of produced water and increasing formation pressures, may necessitate new approaches to water management in the oil and gas industry.

Traditional Approach to Produced Water Management

The above illustration shows standard produced water management in North Dakota.

This is where the GHCR concept comes in. Instead of relying exclusively on freshwater for hydraulic fracturing, the GHCR concept uses an extraction well that is placed some distance away from the SWD well to extract the previously injected produced water. This water is then used during the hydraulic fracturing process, freeing up freshwater to be used for other purposes.

GHCR Approach to Produced Water Management

The above illustration shows the GHCR approach to produced water management in North Dakota.

Not only does this concept reduce the oil and gas industry’s fresh water demand, but by extracting water from the Inyan Kara Formation, it also addresses issues surrounding pressure in the formation’s pore space, SWD capacity, and the length of time we can use SWD wells. The EERC is incredibly proud of the team that led the investigation into this new concept for managing produced water, and ultimately landing this project as runner-up for the iChemE Global Awards.

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