Hidden Value: Finding New Ways to Capture Resources in Produced Water

Published: November 15, 2019

Produced water in the oil and gas sector can be a very costly and complex matter, and largely dependent on location due to the variables in the reservoir, the age of the well, the drilling technologies employed, etc.   

Produced water is an area where many lawyers have been spending a lot of time in recent years. We draft agreements for the injection of produced water, the transportation of it via truck and pipeline, and we advise companies on its general management as production waste. We answer a lot of questions about produced water in not only our professional lives, but also in our personal lives – what is in it, where does it go, where does it come from, why does produced water exist, who’s responsibility is it, what can it be used for? An excellent resource for background on produced water is at the Office of Fossil Energy, which can be found here.

Does produced water actually contain a hidden treasure trove?

There is a percentage of residual hydrocarbon typically present in produced water, which some operators currently skim prior to injection if the amount of the resources present is large enough to make the skim operation economical. Uncaptured natural resources are often present in the produced water. 

Finding the hidden value:

According to the Casper Star Tribune article entitled, University of Wyoming Scientist Awarded $1 Million from Federal Government for Wastewater Research, environmental engineer, Dr. Jonathan Brant, recently received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to research ways to limit the loss of uncaptured natural resources in produced water and to reuse the treated water for industrial purposes. The project will reportedly launch in January 2020 and “an important goal of the research will be producing a cost-effective and simple product that operators can easily incorporate into current water management systems.”

Addressing other compounds present in the produced water is also part of the goal – the grant project will develop a process for cleaning the water to recover not only the uncaptured resources but also to recover these compounds, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle article entitled, UW Center for Excellence in Produced Water Receives Grant. More information on the technology being developed can be found here and also on the homepage for the University of Wyoming Center for Excellence in Produced Water Management, which can be found here.

Congratulations to Dr. Brant and to the Cowboy State on the award of this important grant!

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