Texas Forms New Group To Weigh Pros, Cons of Repurposing Oilfield Waste Water
Acknowledging the necessity to better understand treatment needs, economic challenges, and public health and environmental risks of industry’s waste water, the Texas Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 601, establishing a Texas Produced Water Consortium.
Some Texas leaders and oil and gas industry advocates have for years promoted the idea that produced water—the waste water generated through oil and gas development—has a role to play in meeting broad water needs in the state. However, the state has a limited understanding of the chemicals in this waste water and how programs to reuse it outside the oil field could be practiced safely, if at all.
Acknowledging the necessity to better understand treatment needs, economic challenges, and public health and environmental risks of industry’s waste water, the Texas Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 601, establishing a Texas Produced Water Consortium. The consortium will be housed at Texas Tech University and will bring together a wide swath of agency advisors, technical experts, and key stakeholders to consider these issues and produce a report with recommendations over the next year. The group is charged with suggesting legal and regulatory changes to better enable beneficial uses, identifying pilot projects and assessing the economics of using produced water both efficiently but also in a way that protects public health and the environment.
Answering these questions will be no easy feat, and Texas should definitely not encourage beneficial reuse until it can confidently answer tough questions about safety.
The Unique Challenge of Produced Water
Produced water is highly variable, highly saline, and often toxic—if regulatory programs aren’t designed to directly address the unique pollutants in produced water, they will go untracked and unregulated and create potential risks to water, land, livestock, wildlife, and public health.
EDF has developed a database of produced water chemicals that now totals more than 1,300 constituents. Of these, less than 24% have approved analytical methods for use in a regulatory context, less than 15% have comprehensive toxicological data, and only a small fraction are covered by existing federal and state regulatory criteria and standards.
In Texas, a total of 67 chemicals commonly found in produced waters are covered by existing state surface water quality standards. Outside of surface water discharge scenarios, Texas has essentially no regulatory programs designed specifically to permit the reuse of produced water in other scenarios envisioned by some as beneficial uses, such as irrigation or rangeland rehabilitation.
This consortium will have to directly grapple with these gaps and how to narrow them if reuse in any context can be shown to be beneficial and protective of public health and the environment, as charged by the statute.