Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process that uses millions of gallons of water, approximately 4.5 to 5 million gallons, to fracture the earth per well. The process pumps the millions of gallons of water into the ground along with sand and chemicals. The mixture is highly pressurized to cause the fractures in the earth that allow the oil and gas to be released.
Because water is needed not only for farming and everyday use but also to frack every well that is drilled, it has become a resource that is in high demand in areas around South Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale where most of the drilling is taking place.
One company, Fountain Quail, is taking steps to ensure that some areas don’t run out of water. The company has opened a flowback recycling center, the first of its kind in Karnes County, in partnership with NAC Services, LLC.
Flowback is the water that comes back out of a well once it is fracked. According to Brent Halldorson of Fountain Quail only about 25 percent of the water pumped into the well during the fracking process comes back out to be recycled or disposed of. When the water comes back out, it comes as salt water.
“We can take that waste stream and make it fresh water,” he said.
The process for taking the saltwater waste stream to fresh reusable water is a two-step process.
Halldorson’s company has come up with a piece of equipment called the Nomad that performs the two steps. Step one involves cleaning the salt water. All of the clay, dirt, polymers and solids forms are removed from the water to make it clean saltwater. Step two is to then take the salt water and turn it back into freshwater by removing the salt, or total dissolved solids, through a boiling process. The end result is fresh distilled water.
Not all of the salt water that starts the process comes out as fresh clean water; some comes out as concentrate brine which is not a waste because it can be used in the completion process in drilling.
The other alternative to the Fountain Quail recycling is deep water disposal wells. Flowback water can be placed in very deep wells and sealed up for no further use.
The Fountain Quail method is more environmentally friendly and “we want to make it economically attractive,” Halldorson said.
The NAC Kenedy plant has been in operation since early November. Halldorson said the company chose that location for its recycling center because of the proximity to ongoing activity. The wastewater has to be trucked to the plant for the recycling process to take place but the trucks don’t have to wait on the process. There are holding ponds with fresh water ready and waiting to be taken away after the non-usable water is unloaded.
The whole plant takes up only about a five acres of space on the NAC property and Halldorson said all of the equipment is movable so it can be relocated at any time depending on where the activity is. Moving the facility close to where the activity is makes it attractive to companies because it is more cost effective to truck the water shorter distances.
The company also has operated flowback recycling centers in the Barnett Shale in North Texas. The company has recycled roughly 8 million gallons over its seven years of operation in the Barnett Shale.
“Every drop of water that we have used in Texas has been used to frack a new well,” Halldorson said. “That is 800 million gallons that didn’t come from the environment.”
He said his company is not trying to push recycling but giving people options.
“We have to make sure that the cost of recycling is competitive with disposal wells,” he said. “The value of the recycled fresh water helps make recycling economically attractive.”
The company has hopes that the recycling concept will take off as it did in the Barnett and that Fountain Quail will be able to open up several more recycling facilities all around the Eagle Ford or move the one it has in place currently.