Drilling for Oil, Recycling Water

Turning wastewater back into the revenue stream.

Michael Wellington

According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the oil and gas industry expends over 92 billion gallons (348 billion liters) of fresh water and produces more than 800 billion gallons (3 trillion liters) of wastewater each year. 

Typically, these large volumes of wastewater are either treated to remove contaminants and discharged into surface waters, recycled for use on other drilling projects, or injected into specialized wells. 

According to the EPA, the majority of this wastewater is currently managed by disposing of it through underground injection, placing it where it can no longer be accessed or used. The limits of injection are clear in some areas, and more and more studies have tied underground injection to increased seismic activity in other locations. Overall, it seems to make little sense to continue wasting this water, particularly where water is scarce. 

At some drilling sites, this huge volume of wastewater is being recycled rather than discarded, and some groups are pushing for mandatory recycling policies. 

Blackstar Environmental Group has developed a well-site technology that actually turns this contaminated water into a revenue stream instead of costly waste, according to an article the Louisiana-based company sponsored and published in the Houston Business Journal

The process separates out clean water, salt, and skim oil, all of which are valuable resources that can be reused or sold. The ability to hook the water stream up to Blackstar’s on-site technology saves major transportation costs, eliminating the need to load all the produced water into trucks, transport those trucks to a disposal facility, and then pay for disposal. Blackstar CEO Ben Vinet claims their process can cut waste stream costs by 50 percent in some regions. “This is a green technology,” he told the Houston Business Journal. “In Wyoming, we’re taking the waste from one industry and creating a beneficial reuse — fresh water for agricultural irrigation.”