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Water Use in Association with Oil and Gas Activities (FAQs)

 

1: Regarding water issues in Texas, what is the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission?
2. Which oil and gas activities require the largest volumes of fresh water?

3. Are operators required to disclose how much water they are using for hydraulic fracturing?
4. Where can I get more information on water usage associated with hydraulic fracturing?
5. How much water is estimated to be used by the oil and gas industry?
6. Is it possible for oil and gas operators to use recycled water?
7. How is surface water regulated in Texas?
8. What is the role of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation?
9. How do local Groundwater Conservation Districts regulate groundwater in Texas?
10. What are the regulations relating to water wells drilled for water to be used in oil and gas activities in Texas?

1. Regarding water issues in Texas, what is the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission?
A: The Commission has no statutory authority to regulate the withdrawal or use of water used for oil and gas exploration and production, including water used for hydraulic fracturing.

The industries regulated by the Commission use both surface water and groundwater for their activities. Much of the water used in association with oil and gas activities, particularly the water used in enhanced recovery, is saline or brackish water. Saline or brackish water is drawn from underground reservoirs that are below the base of usable quality water. The Railroad Commission requires a permit for wells associated with oil and gas activities that draw such water from formations below the base of usable quality water.

The Commission’s Statewide Rule 5 (16 TAC §3.5) requires a Commission drilling permit to drill an injection water supply well that penetrates the base of usable quality water. Statewide Rule 13 (16 TAC §3.13) requires that an injection supply water well that penetrates the base of usable quality water be completed in accordance with the criteria in the rule, and the injection supply water well must be plugged in accordance with Statewide Rule 14 (16 TAC §3.14).

When a fresh water well, whether the well is a rig supply well or an injection water supply well, is drilled above the base of usable quality water and fresh water is used, regulations other than those of the Commission apply.

2. Which oil and gas activities require the largest volumes of fresh water?
The largest volume of water is used in enhanced recovery. This water is primarily saline or brackish water. Enhanced recovery refers to techniques that make it possible to recover more oil than can be obtained by natural pressure, such as the injection of fluid or gases into an oilfield to force more oil to the surface.

The next largest volume of water is used during the drilling and completion of oil and gas wells. Water is used during drilling for drilling fluid preparation and make-up water for completion fluids, including cementing, in well stimulation, as rig wash water, as coolant for internal combustion engines, and for workers’ on-site sanitary purposes.

Fresh water is used in oil and gas well stimulation. Stimulation methods include acidizing and/or hydraulic fracturing. In order to be able to produce oil and gas at volumes and rates that are economical, reservoirs with low permeability must be treated. One method of treatment to increase permeability is hydraulic fracturing treatment or “fracing.”

Hydraulic fracturing consists of pumping into a formation large volumes of fresh water that generally has been treated with a friction reducer, surfactant and clay stabilizer to create a gel that is used to transport sand into the formation. The gelled fluid is pumped under pressure to create and propagate a fracture or crack into the formation. The sand, known as proppant, is carried in the gel and is deposited into the fracture to “prop” or hold it open. The fracture treatments are designed to increase fracture length and minimize fracture height. The fractures result in increased surface area within the reservoir, which expands the productive area of the formation, and results in increases in the desorption of the oil and gas from the shale and increases in the mobility of the oil and gas. The result is lower completion costs and faster recovery of a larger volume of gas-in-place. The volumes injected during hydraulic fracturing treatment can range from 70,000 barrels in a vertical well to more than 90,000 barrels in a horizontal well. Hydraulic fracturing, where necessary, generally takes place immediately after drilling and periodically during the life of a well.

3. Are operators required to disclose how much water they are using for hydraulic fracturing?
As of Feb. 1, 2012, the Commission requires Texas oil and gas operators to disclose on the FracFocus website http://fracfocus.org/ chemical ingredients and water volumes used in the hydraulic fracturing treatment of oil and gas wells for all wells initially permitted and undergoing hydraulic fracturing after Feb. 1, 2012. The FracFocus website is a chemical registry hosted by the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC). The GWPC is a national association of state groundwater and underground injection control agencies. The IOGCC is a national commission whose members are the governors and state regulators of oil and gas producing states.

4. Where can I get more information on water usage associated with hydraulic fracturing?
The Railroad Commission’s Hydraulic Fracturing Frequently Asked Questions document contains information on water use associated with hydraulic fracturing:
http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/about/faqs/hydraulicfracturing.php

5. How much water is estimated to be used by the oil and gas industry?
The 2012 State Water Plan, published by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), serves as a guide to state water policy. According to the plan, irrigation accounts for the largest share of the state’s total current water demand, using over half of the water in Texas. Additionally, projected water needs are expected to increase most in the category of municipal water use in the coming decades, currently the second largest share of water demand in the state. Demand for municipal water (including rural county-other) is expected to increase from 4.9 million acre-feet in 2010 to 8.4 million acre-feet in 2060. Water demands for manufacturing, steam-electric power generation, and livestock are also expected to increase.

In comparison, mining demand is expected to remain relatively constant. Total mining water use continues to represent less than 1 percent of statewide water use, although percentages can be larger in some localized areas. The TWDB reports that the mining category is the state's smallest of the water user categories and is expected to decline one percent from 296,230 acre-feet to 292,294 acre-feet between 2010 and 2060. The TWDB defines mining water demands as those that “consist of water used in the exploration, development, and extraction processes of oil, gas, coal, aggregates, and other materials.”

The following link will take you to the 2012 State Water Plan:
http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/waterplanning/swp/2012/

6. Is it possible for oil and gas operators to use recycled water?
The Commission recognizes concerns over water use by the oil and gas industry and has given approval to operators' requests for recycling projects aimed at reducing the amount of fresh water used in exploration and production. New treatment technologies are making it possible to recycle water recovered from hydraulic fracturing, including the reuse of treated flowback fluids. Additionally, operators are exploring using lesser quality water (non-potable water) for hydraulic fracturing. The Commission encourages such industry innovations.

The following authorizations for water recycling projects have been issued by the Commission and are currently active:

  • Geopure Hydrotechnologies received statewide authorization in August 2012 to treat produced water and fracture flowback water for reuse.
  • Aftermath Environmental received statewide authorization in July 2012 to treat fracture flowback water and produced water for subsequent reuse.
  • Water Rescue Services Holdings received statewide authorization in February 2012 to treat produced water and fracture flowback water for reuse.
  • Halliburton Energy Services Inc. received statewide authorization in March 2012 to treat fracture flowback water for reuse as fracturing fluid makeup.
  • Express Energy Services received statewide authorization in December 2011 to treat produced water and fracture flowback water for reuse as fracturing fluid makeup. Express Energy Services uses trailer mounted units equipped with clarification, filtration, and reverse osmosis units to treat the water.
  • CES SWD Texas, Inc. received statewide authorization in September 2011 to treat produced water and fracture flowback water for reuse as fracturing fluid makeup. CES SWD Texas uses trailer mounted units equipped with a separator, dissolved air flotation unit water softening units, a clarifier, and filters to treat water.
  • Bear Creek Services received authorization in November 2010 to treat reserve out fluids, firewall water, and fracture flowback water for reuse during the well completion process. Bear Creek Services utilizes forward osmosis in its treatment process.
  • Brazos Bend Energy Services of Granbury, on behalf of Chesapeake Operating, Inc., received authorization to dispose of produced water and drilling fluids in the City of Fort Worth’s wastewater system in July 2009. The authorization to dispose of these waste streams is contingent upon Brazos Bend also receiving authorization from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the City of Fort Worth. While Brazos Bend does not reuse any of these fluids in oil and gas activities, treating produced water and drilling fluids in a municipal water treatment system rather than disposing of these fluids in a disposal well allows the water to remain in the hydrologic cycle. As of June 2010, Brazos Bend Energy Services has introduced approximately 19,000 barrels of oil and gas wastewater into the City of Fort Worth’s wastewater system.
  • The Barnett Shale Water Conservation Company received authorization from the Commission in March 2007 to dispose of produced water and drilling fluids in the City of Fort Worth’s wastewater system. The authorization to dispose of these waste streams is contingent upon Barnett Shale Water Conservation Company also receiving authorization from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the City of Fort Worth. While Barnett Shale Water Conservation Company does not reuse any of these fluids in oil and gas activities, treating produced water and drilling fluids in a municipal water treatment system rather than disposing of these fluids in a disposal well allows the water to remain in the hydrologic cycle.
  • Fountain Quail Water Management of Jacksboro uses a recycling process that allows reuse of approximately 80 percent of the returned fracture fluids processed through its commercial mobile recycling unit. When water injected to fracture formations returns to the surface, it becomes unusable due to its high salt content. This recycling process involves on-site distilling units that apply heat to separate the brine resulting from fracturing gas formations into a relatively small volume of concentrated brine that is disposed of in a disposal well and a large volume of distilled water that can be reused to fracture additional wells. Under this project, instead of hauling unusable return fracture fluids to a disposal well, the fracture flowback fluid is stored in tanks on location and piped into treatment equipment. Natural gas produced on location is used to fire the distilling units that in turn boil the returned fracture fluid and produce distilled water. The distilled water can then be used to fracture treat another well. Based on the success of Fountain Quail’s pilot program, on October 30, 2006, the Commissioners authorized Fountain Quail on a permanent basis to treat fracture flowback fluid. As of June 2012, Fountain Quail has processed over 16.19 million barrels of returned fracture fluid to recover over 12.38 million barrels of reusable distilled water.

7. How is surface water regulated in Texas?
In Texas, water flowing in Texas creeks, rivers and bays is owned and managed by the State. Anyone who diverts such surface water must have authorization – or a water right -- from the State of Texas through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) (Texas Water Code, Chapter 11, relating to Water Rights). Therefore, a person who withdraws surface waters for mining, construction, and oil or gas activities must obtain a water rights permit from TCEQ.

An applicant may apply for a Temporary Water Right permit for short-term use of surface water. Temporary Water Rights permits authorizing use of 10 acre-feet or less and for one year or less may be issued by a TCEQ Regional Office. In times of drought, the TCEQ may suspend all temporary water rights permits.

Applicants who seek to use more than 10 acre-feet of water or who seek a term of more than one year (up to a maximum of three years) must apply through the TCEQ Water Rights Permitting Team in Austin. TCEQ forms, fees, contacts, and other water rights information may be found on the TCEQ website (www.tceq.state.tx.us).

8. What is the role of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation?
Effective Sept. 1, 2003, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) regulates Water Well Drillers under the Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 1901. Rig supply wells must be drilled by a licensed Water Well Driller; however, Chapter 1901 excludes from the definition of “water well” “an injection water source well regulated under §91.101 of the Natural Resources Code.” The Water Well Driller must submit drilling logs and other required information to the TDLR and the Texas Water Development Board (TWBD). The completion and plugging of such wells must comply with TDLR regulations. Local Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) have the authority to enforce the plugging regulations for abandoned or deteriorated water wells within their boundaries.

9. How do local Groundwater Conservation Districts regulate groundwater in Texas?
In Texas, groundwater ownership rights are subject to regulation and control by the courts and the State Legislature. Groundwater may be managed individually by landowners under the rule of capture, or collectively by landowners and groundwater conservation districts (GCDs). Under the “Rule of Capture,” landowners may pump as much water as they choose, without liability to surrounding landowners who might claim that the pumping is depleting their wells. There are very few restrictions to the Rule of Capture.

The Texas Legislature authorized the creation of GCDs as the State's preferred method of groundwater management (Texas Water Code, Chapter 36). These districts are empowered and charged to conserve, preserve, protect, recharge, and prevent waste of groundwater resources within their boundaries. GCDs may be created through a special legislative act, a landowner petition process to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), a landowner petition process to join an existing GCD, or TCEQ initiative in a priority groundwater management area (PGMA). Additional information regarding groundwater management can be located at the following: http://www.tgpc.state.tx.us/

Chapter 36 specifically does not apply to production or injection wells drilled for oil, gas, sulphur, uranium, or brine, or for core tests, or for injection of gas, saltwater, or other fluids, under permits issued by the Railroad Commission. However, it does apply to water wells, including injection water source wells (“water wells used to supply water for activities related to the exploration or production of hydrocarbons or minerals” (§36.117(l)).

Under Texas Water Code §36.117, there are certain exemptions, exceptions, and limitations to Chapter 36. In addition to exemptions for small volume livestock and poultry and domestic water wells, there are certain exceptions for temporary rig supply wells and limitations on injection water supply wells used in association with oil and gas activity, as well as water wells associated with surface mining activity.

Section 36.117 includes a permit exception for temporary rig supply wells. A GCD may not require a permit for the drilling of a temporary rig supply well (“drilling of a water well used solely to supply water for a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the Railroad Commission of Texas provided that the person holding the permit is responsible for drilling and operating the water well and the well is located on the same lease or field associated with the drilling rig” (§36.117(b)(1)). However, a rig supply water well must be registered in accordance with GCD rules and must be equipped and maintained to conform to the GCD’s rules requiring installation of casing, pipe, and fittings to prevent the escape of groundwater from a groundwater reservoir to any reservoir not containing groundwater and to prevent the pollution or harmful alteration of the character of the water in any groundwater reservoir (§36.117(h)). The driller of a rig supply well must file the drilling log with the GCD (§36.117(i)). In addition, the GCD may require a water well originally drilled for the purpose of rig supply to be permitted by the GCD and to comply with all GCD rules if the purpose of the well no longer is solely to supply water for a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the Railroad Commission (§36.117(d)). And finally, the well must be plugged in accordance with GCD regulations.

Section 36.117 includes a limitation on injection water supply wells. Although Chapter 36 applies to injection water source wells, Section 36.117 prohibits a GCD from denying an application for a permit to drill and produce water for hydrocarbon production activities (an injection supply water well) if the application meets all applicable rules as promulgated by the GCD (§36.117(g)).

Section 36.117 also includes a permit exemption for water wells drilled in association with surface mining. A GCD may not require a permit issued by the GCD for the drilling of a water well authorized under a permit issued by the Railroad Commission under Chapter 134, Natural Resources Code, or for production from such a well to the extent the withdrawals are required for mining activities regardless of any subsequent use of the water. However, such a well must be registered in accordance with GCD rules and must be equipped and maintained so as to conform to the GCD’s rules requiring installation of casing, pipe, and fittings to prevent the escape of groundwater from a groundwater reservoir to any reservoir not containing groundwater and to prevent the pollution or harmful alteration of the character of the water in any groundwater reservoir, and the driller of such a well must file with the GCD a copy of the drilling log. Furthermore, a GCD may require such a well to be permitted by the GCD and to comply with all GCD rules if the withdrawals from such a well are no longer necessary for mining activities or are greater than the amount necessary for mining activities specified in the permit issued by the Railroad Commission.

10. What are the regulations relating to water wells drilled for water to be used in oil and gas activities in Texas?
The following tables outline the requirements for water associated with oil and gas activities in Texas:

TCEQ = Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
RRC = Railroad Commission of Texas
GCD = Groundwater Conservation District
TDLR = Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation

Rig Supply Wells that DO Not Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water

Agency Requirement Cite

TDLR

Rig supply water well must be drilled by Licensed Water Well Driller.

§1901.151 Texas Occupations Code

Driller must make and keep a well log in accordance with TDLR rules and forms and must send a copy of the log to TDLR and TCEQ.

Log must include:

  • the depth, thickness, and character of strata penetrated;
  • the location of water-bearing strata;
  • the depth, size, and character of casing; and
  • any other information required by TDLR.

§1901.251, Texas Occupations Code

Driller must complete the rig supply water well in accordance with TDLR standards and procedures.

§1901.253, Texas Occupations Code

Landowner or operator of abandoned or deteriorated water well must plug or cap the well within 180 days. (NOTE: A GCD has the authority to enforce this section.)

Driller, pump installer, or owner who plugs a rig supply water well must submit plugging report to GCD and TDLR.

§§1901.254, 1901.255, and 1901.256, Texas Occupations Code

GCD

Rig supply water wells are exempt from GCD permitting requirements provided:

  • the rig supply water well is to be used solely to supply water for a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the RRC*; and
  • the person holding the permit is responsible for drilling and operating the water well and the well is located on the same lease or field associated with the drilling rig.

§36.117(b)(2), Texas Water Code

Rig supply well must be:

  • registered in accordance with GCD rules and
  • be equipped and maintained so as to conform to the GCD’s rules requiring installation of casing, pipe, and fittings to prevent the escape of groundwater from a groundwater reservoir to any reservoir not containing groundwater and to prevent the pollution or harmful alteration of the character of the water in any groundwater reservoir.

§36.117(h), Texas Water Code

Driller must submit the drilling log for the rig supply water well to the GCD.

§36.117(i), Texas Water Code

The GCD may require a permit and compliance with all GCD rules if the exempted rig supply well no longer supplies water solely to a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the RRC.

§36.117(d)(1), Texas Water Code

Groundwater withdrawn from an exempt rig supply water well that is subsequently transported outside the boundaries of the GCD is subject to any applicable production and export fees.

§§36.117(k), 36.122 and 36.205, Texas Water Code

* The RRC interprets the phrase “a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the commission” to mean a drilling rig or a workover rig and interprets “exploration operations” to include well completion and workover, including hydraulic fracturing operations.

Rig Supply Wells that Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water
Agency Regulation Cite

TDLR

A driller must notify TDLR and the landowner or person having a well drilled on encountering water injurious to vegetation, land, or other water and determining that the well must be plugged, repaired, or properly completed in order to avoid injury or pollution. The driller must ensure that the well is plugged, repaired, or properly completed under standards and procedures adopted by TDLR.

Chapter 28 Texas Water Code

§1901.254

 

Injection Water Supply Wells that Do Not Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water
Agency Requirement Cite

TDLR

Injection water supply well must be drilled by licensed water well driller.

§1901.151 Texas Occupations Code

Driller must make and keep a well log in accordance with TCEQ rules and forms and must send a copy to the well owner, TDLR and TCEQ.

The well log must include:

  • the depth, thickness, and character of strata penetrated;
  • the location of water-bearing strata;
  • the depth, size, and character of casing; and
  • any other information required by TDLR.

§1901.251, Texas Occupations Code

Driller must complete the well under TDLR standards and procedures.

§1901.253, Texas Occupations Code

Landowner or operator of abandoned or deteriorated water well must plug or cap the well within 180 days. (NOTE: GCD has authority to enforce this section.)

Driller, pump installer, or owner who plugs injection water supply well must submit plugging report to GCD and TDLR.

§§1901.254, 1901.255, and 1901.256, Texas Occupations Code

GCD

Jurisdiction of GCD applies to water wells, including water wells used to supply water for activities related to the exploration or production of hydrocarbons or minerals. Jurisdiction does not extend to production or injection wells drilled for oil and gas, or for core tests, or for injection of gas, saltwater, or other fluids, under permits issued by the RRC.

§36.117(l), Texas Water Code

GCD permit required for injection water supply wells drilled for hydrocarbon activities associated with an oil or gas well drilled after September 1, 1985.

§36.117, Texas Water Code, enacted effective 09-01-1985.

A GCD cannot deny an application for a permit to drill and produce water for hydrocarbon production activities (injection water supply well) if the application meets all applicable GCD rules.

§36.117(g), Texas Water Code

A GCD permit may regulate:

  • Spacing of wells from property lines or adjoining wells
  • Density
  • Production
  • Completion; and
  • Plugging

A GCD permit may also require submission of certain information and assess production fees.

§§36.1131 and 36.116

§§36.120, §36.205 and 36.206, Texas Water Code

Water well must be completed and plugged in accordance with TDLR rules.

§§1901.253, 1901.254, and 1901.255, Texas Occupations Code

Report of well plugging must be submitted to the GCD and TDLR.

§1901.255, Texas Occupations Code

Injection Water Supply Wells that Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water
Agency Regulation Cite

RRC

A RRC drilling permit is required to drill an injection water source well that penetrates the base of usable quality water.

§91.101, Texas Natural Resources Code

16 TAC §3.5

Well must cased and plugged in accordance with RRC regulations.

16 TAC §§3.13 and 3.14.