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Overview of Texas A&M's Program for the Beneficial Use of Oil Field Produced Water

David Burnett, William E. Fox, Ph.D., Gene L. Theodori, Ph.D.

Texas A&M University's produced water treatment research program is developing a “new found” fresh water resource in arid and semi-arid regions of the Western U.S. This fresh water resource is created from oil field produced brine, treated in the field by mobile units to remove contamination and dissolved salts. To demonstrate the value of this resource we are planning restoration of degraded range lands and wildlife habitats along with environmental monitoring of soils, plants and wildlife. In addition, recognizing that oil and gas producers sell petroleum and not water, A&M has initiated a new community development program to study the market mechanisms and incentives for utilization of this new resource by landowners and local community and business enterprises.

The water treatment technology being used by the A&M group provides fresh water at a cost competitive with the transportation costs of salt water removal or fresh water delivery. To prove the utility of the concept, we have designed portable units to deliver fresh water to field sites to restore degraded lands and wildlife habitats by rainfall augmentation. Units will be instrumented to (1) determine operating costs more accurately and (2) to ensure safe operation and delivered water quality. The sites will also be monitored to take into account the effect of fresh water application on desert soils and the effect on native grasses and wildlife. Demonstrating such technology should benefit efforts to develop restoration strategies for arid and semi-arid range lands throughout the western United States.

Restoration of such degraded lands offers one way of utilizing this resource in a beneficial manner. To find other potential benefits of produced water treatment and re use, A&M is adapting practices developed by the Department of Rural Sociology to work with rural communities. The Department offers programs to assist rural communities in capacity building and improving their community employment, service and industrial bases. Our objective is to identify mechanisms whereby oil and gas producers will recover the cost of water treatment when it is used in a beneficial manner for the public sector. We are developing several concepts of economic incentives from local or state whereby such industry/public collaboration could be achieved.

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