Dec. 14–CARBON capture technology, like hydraulic fracturing, has been in use for decades. Carbon dioxide is “captured” from power plants, for example, and put to some use that makes it more environmentally friendly.
The principal use of carbon capture technology is enhanced oil recovery. Since the 1970s, carbon capture has helped revive old oil fields in the Texas Permian Basin. The future of carbon capture technology is bright, but another environmental problem involving oil and gas exploration continues to seek practical, economic solutions. The issue is what to do with the wastewater that results from fracking.
Oklahoma is at center stage in the drama because of the enormous quantities of wastewater and the effect of disposal wells on seismology. If more of the wastewater could be put to use instead of pumped into a disposal well, environmentalists should be satisfied and citizens would be less vulnerable to earthquakes.
In the real world of fossil fuel dependence (a world we’ll inhabit for many years to come), the challenge isn’t to do away with petroleum and coal but to find ways to make them safer to produce and consume. This is where wastewater disposal technology enters the story.
In New Mexico, the fifth-driest state in the union, a move is afoot to require that oil production-related wastewater be reused for agriculture or even drinking water. The idea is to reduce water consumption while putting waste to a better use.
Less dry than New Mexico, Oklahoma faces continued scrutiny over disposal wells. This is indeed a problem in search of solutions. We believe technology will find them if bureaucracy and environmental blockades don’t interfere.
Already in New Mexico, environmental groups are expressing doubt about reusing oil-related wastewater. Even if none of it enters the drinking water supply, the chemicals used in exploration and production are of concern.
A recent report from stateline.org said every barrel of oil produced by fracking in New Mexico yields five barrels of “produced water.” As in Oklahoma, much of this is used to bring up more oil. That which isn’t reused is injected into disposal wells. In some states where the shale boom is underway, wastewater is trucked to other states for injection.
To grasp the scale of this issue, consider that Oklahoma produced 2.3 billion barrels of wastewater in 2012, the latest year for which we could find data. Of that amount, 1.09 billion barrels were reused for oil and gas exploration. The remainder was presumably pumped underground.
Also in 2012, Texas produced 7.8 billion barrels of oil-related wastewater. Less than half was reused in petroleum production.
Technology has advanced the use of treated municipal sewage for reuse. Surely it can address the wastewater problem. Some tradeoffs and compromises will be needed. Government policy should not make wastewater disposal so expensive for producers that they can’t stay in business.
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