By: Michael Dunkel, CH2M Vice President

Since 2011, I’ve been involved in water management for the oil and gas business, working for Pioneer Natural Resources and now CH2M. I am passionate about identifying innovative solutions to help transform the upstream energy water business by working with clients to move the needle on water management.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Laura Capper, founder and CEO of CAP Resources and host of “The Energy Makers Show”, to discuss opportunities for transforming the upstream energy water business, as well as the state of shale plays, water management, logistics, economies of scale, best practices, disposal and trucking minimization and operator/regulator collaboration.

Historically, if we look at shale plays and onshore drilling in the United States, there have been two stages. In stage 1, water was not a big driver; but rather, oil and gas companies were more concerned about how to drill better wells, get more out of their wells and cut costs. The industry has done an amazing job with accomplishing these goals, and consequently is delivering record low gasoline and oil prices today. However, water management for shale plays hasn’t been made much more efficient or effective since this was started; much is still sourced and disposed of locally, as well as trucked in and out of plays.

To help transform the industry, CH2M is working with oil and gas clients to identify alternative solutions that not only lower costs, but take trucks off the road and reduce reliance on fresh water by using brackish water and reusing produced water. Leveraging lessons we’ve learned from working with clients in the multiple basins, CH2M engages with oil and gas clients early in the process to look at the most feasible solutions on a client-by-client basis. By asking questions, like those below, we help oil and gas companies evaluate their water sources, look at non-fresh water alternatives, reduce water disposal and cut costs overall.

  • What are your local water options?
  • How are you disposing of water?
  • Could water infrastructure help reduce trucking and aggregate water for effective re-use?
  • What about leveraging other companies to share water resources and infrastructure?

If regulators, oil and gas companies and engineering consultants share a common vision, involving sharing water pipe infrastructure, water storage, water sources and even disposal wells, progress can be made to reduce costs, reduce fresh water use and reduce water disposal. Despite the fact that there are capital costs to building water infrastructure at shale plays, which can by a tough decision for producers to make when it comes down to building new wells or building water infrastructure, there are opportunities for companies to work collaboratively.

Take for instance, Oklahoma and Texas where there is not a large supply of fresh water. With droughts, agricultural demands and changes in the environment placing great stress on water resources, these states are looking for alternatives and long-term sustainable solutions to effectively manage water supplies. Some states have limitations on water disposal based on geology or other factors. Stage 2 takes into consideration how we implement long-term, sustainable solutions for using, moving and disposing of water resources in the shale production industry.

Listen to my full interview here for more insight on water use in shale production and how we can help the industry progress more sustainable water practices.

Michael Dunkel is a vice president at CH2M. Located in the firm’s Dallas, Texas, office, Michael works with water management in upstream oil and gas companies.