By Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association
The Permian Basin is the largest petroleum-producing region in the United States, and for a time in 2019, before the pandemic, it became the highest producing oilfield in the world. One assessment even concluded that the Permian Basin’s unproven, technically recoverable reserves are the largest on the planet.
This is good news for Texans, the United States and the world, because Texas oil and natural gas not only provide reliable, affordable energy, fuels and products that make modern life possible, but industry also pays billions in taxes and other economic activity that funds education, infrastructure, first responders, and other essential services in our communities. This industry is also making unmatched investments in innovative technologies that have positioned the United States as the global leader in energy and environmental progress.
The Permian Basin of West Texas has lately experienced an uptick in seismic activity, which some research links to oilfield produced water disposal. For years, operators have worked collaboratively and extensively with industry peers, TexNet, CISR and other academic research groups to monitor, collect, and share information that guides industry practices with regard to seismic activity in producing regions.
A Seismicity Workgroup made up of TXOGA members and other industry trade partners meets regularly to discuss these issues and develop solutions based on science-based best practices. In late 2019, the Workgroup facilitated the development of industry supported recommended practices around seismicity, which was adopted by TXOGA and other organizations. Oil and natural gas operators are actively using proven technology to improve all aspects of operations through practices such as pre-completion risk assessment, proper monitoring and mitigation protocols.
Industry is also working collaboratively with lawmakers, regulators and academia to facilitate exploring the feasibility of recycling produced water in various, beneficial applications outside the oilfield. In 2021, industry was pleased to support the creation of the Texas Produced Water Consortium (TxPWC), which was created by Senate Bill 601, authored by Senator Charles Perry and Representative Dustin Burrows.
Additionally, industry regulators are fulfilling their obligation to ensure Texas’ natural resources are produced responsibly. For example, the Railroad Commission of Texas is closely following the seismic activity that could be linked to the disposal of oilfield produced water. In fact, the Commission recently took action to cut back disposal of produced water in certain areas while it evaluates alternatives. Commissioner Jim Wright recently penned a column outlining solutions the Commission is working on with producers. Further, the Seismicity Workgroup has provided a framework to the Commission in which to leverage industry data, Commission resources and provide a response framework to address seismicity within the Permian Basin. The Commission is currently leveraging that framework to address areas of increased seismicity and work with industry on seismicity mitigating options.
Texas has been wise to embrace policies to encourage water recycling and reuse while avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach. As a result, the oil and natural gas industry is at the forefront of water conservation, innovation and sustainability efforts in Texas. Today’s oil and natural gas companies are technology companies, and recycling produced water is becoming more common thanks to the oil and natural gas industry’s commitment to innovation and technological advances. Many Texas oil and natural gas companies are voluntarily leading the way to develop and deploy innovative technologies that are reducing freshwater use, expanding produced water reuse and increasing use of naturally-occurring saltwater (brackish groundwater) in their operations.
The pioneering work of these companies in conjunction with regulators and initiatives like the TxPWC, coupled with continued technological advancements, will allow industry and our partners to advance produced water recycling and reuse even further to allow oilfield produced water to be recycled and treated into new sources of water for beneficial use in a variety of industry and environmental applications.
The Texas oil and natural gas industry will continue to be supportive of the important work TexNet and CISR are doing related to seismicity and TxPWC at Texas Tech with regard to produced water. Industry’s collaborative efforts with academia, regulators and others will ensure the continued safe and responsible development of our state’s indispensable resources.