The potential for using energy from flared gas or renewable resources for on-site hydraulic fracturing wastewater treatment
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The oil and gas well completion method of hydraulic fracturing faces several environmental challenges: the process is highly water-intensive; it generates a significant volume of wastewater; and it is associated with widespread flaring of co-produced natural gas. One possible solution to simultaneously mitigate these challenges is to use the energy from flared natural gas to power on-site wastewater treatment, thereby reducing 1) flared gas without application, 2) the volumes of wastewater, and 3) the volumes of freshwater that need to be procured for subsequent shale production, as the treated wastewater could be reused. In regions with minimal flaring a potential solution is to couple renewable electricity (generated from solar and wind energy) with on-site wastewater treatment, thereby 1) reducing the volumes of wastewater, 2) reducing the volumes of freshwater that need to be procured for subsequent shale production, and 3) displacing fossil fuel energy for treatment. This study builds an analytical framework for assessing the technical potential of these approaches. In this research, the hydraulic fracturing wastewater characteristics (such as quality, quantity, and flow rates) were considered along with various treatment technologies best suited to utilizing natural gas and renewable electricity, using the Permian Basin in west Texas as a geographic test bed for analysis. For the analysis looking at using flared natural gas energy for on-site treatment, the required volume of gas to meet the thermal energy requirements for treatment was calculated on a per-well basis. Additionally, the volume of product water (defined here as the treated water that can be reused) based on the technology type was determined. Finally, the theoretical maximum volume of product water that could be generated using the total volume of natural gas that was flared in Texas in 2012 as a benchmark was calculated. It was concluded that the thermal energy required to treat wastewater that returns to the surface over the first ten days after a well is completed is 140–820 Million British Thermal Units (MMBTU) and would generate 750–6,800 cubic meters of product water depending on the treatment technology. Additionally, based on the thermal technologies assessed in this study, the theoretical maximum volume of product water that can be generated statewide using the energy from the flared gas in 2012 is 180–540 million cubic meters, representing approximately 3–9% of the state’s annual water demand for municipal purposes or 1–2.4% of total statewide water demand for all purposes. This is enough gas to treat more water than was projected would be used for the entire mining sector in 2010 in Texas. For the analysis coupling renewable electricity with on-site treatment, the necessary energy for water management upstream and downstream of a well site was calculated and compared with the current energy requirements and those of a proposed strategy where a portion of the wastewater is treated on-site and reused on a subsequent well. Through this analysis, it was determined that implementing on-site treatment using renewable electricity could reduce freshwater requirements by 11–26%. Finally, it was calculated that this approach could displace approximately 16% of the fossil fuel energy requirements for pumping freshwater, trucking that water to the well site, and trucking wastewater to a disposal well.