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Permian Basin Oil Producers Brace For Coming Wave Of Waste Water

Oil and gas dominate the Texas energy market but wind power generation is growing exponentially. Wind power now provides 10 per cent of the state's electricity. (Lorne Matalon)

By Mitch Borden 

Having too much water in West Texas doesn’t seem like it would be a big problem, but it is for oil producers in the Permian Basin and it’s only going to get worse. That’s according to a new report published by Wood Mackenzie, an energy consulting firm, that estimates the amount of salty water pulled up with oil will double in the region by 2022.

Oil producers, and the industry at large, are currently in the middle of figuring out how to deal with this coming wave because if they don’t know where to put the water that can cause some big problems according to Matthias Bloennigen.

"If [an oil producer] can’t get rid of the water [they] have to shut in [their] oil well."

Bloennigen is an analyst with Wood Mackenzie, and he said the amount of water produced by Permian oil rigs will almost double over the next five years. That’s because oil production is expected to increase.

The Western edge of the Permian espcially -- known as the Delaware Basin -- will get hit hard by the water problem because this area produces a lot more water than other regions. Currently, Delaware Basin rigs pump out around 3 million barrels of frac water a day. Wood Mackenzie estimates that will soon jump to about 5 million.  

Bloennigen said, "In a few years, we’re not going to have enough capacity [in the Permian Basin] to get rid of all the water."

Oil companies are looking for solutions like recycling produced water Bloennigen explained. But, according to him, even if the industry reused all of the water it extracts -- which it currently doesn’t -- frac water will still exceed the region’s current storage capacity in the near future.  

The final conclusion is more needs to be done, according to Bloennigen, to prevent produced water from impacting production in America’s largest oil field.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.