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Water Issues Related to Transitioning from Conventional to Unconventional Oil Production in the Permian Basin

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journal contribution
posted on 06.09.2017 by Bridget R. Scanlon, Robert C. Reedy, Frank Male, Mark Walsh
The Permian Basin is being transformed by the “shale revolution” from a major conventional play to the world’s largest unconventional play, but water management is critical in this semiarid region. Here we explore evolving issues associated with produced water (PW) management and hydraulic fracturing water demands based on detailed well-by-well analyses. Our results show that although conventional wells produce ∼13 times more water than oil (PW to oil ratio, PWOR = 13), this produced water has been mostly injected back into pressure-depleted oil-producing reservoirs for enhanced oil recovery. Unconventional horizontal wells use large volumes of water for hydraulic fracturing that increased by a factor of ∼10–16 per well and ∼7–10 if normalized by lateral well length (2008–2015). Although unconventional wells have a much lower PWOR of 3 versus 13 from conventional wells, this PW cannot be reinjected into the shale reservoirs but is disposed into nonproducing geologic intervals that could result in overpressuring and induced seismicity. The potential for PW reuse from unconventional wells is high because PW volumes can support hydraulic fracturing water demand based on 2014 data. Reuse of PW with minimal treatment (clean brine) can partially mitigate PW injection concerns while reducing water demand for hydraulic fracturing.