A Brief Guide to Water Management in the Oil and Gas Industry

Gun Barrel Tank

Many often overlook water management in the oil and gas industry.

There are approximately 1 million producing oil and gas wells in United States, and altogether they produce 21 billion barrels of water per year.

That’s 58 million barrels of water each day—twice the amount that flows over Niagara Falls in 24 hours.

This is why the discussion about bringing a well online to produce oil and gas begins with water.

The Two-Way Street of Water Management

There are two primary reasons we talk about water in our industry:

  1. You need it to crack wells. Water is an essential part of the completion process. It takes an average of 13 million gallons of water to drill a well. Producers must figure out where to get water, and how to get it to the wellhead. Some companies use freshwater to do this. They may source it from a pond or river, and pump it through flexible hoses to the wellsite. Because of the great need, more and more companies are trying to find ways to recycle water.
  2. You need to do something with it when it comes back up. As the injected water comes up in the production fluid, commonly referred to as “flowback water,” companies must then figure out what to do with it: dispose of it or recycle it.

How Water Separates from Oil and Gas

Figure 1 shows the process of oil, gas, and water separation. Produced water, represented by the brown line, comes out of the wellhead at top lefthand corner. At this point it mixes together with oil and gas.



It then goes through a separation vessel. In this tank, water settles at the bottom, oil in the middle, and gas rises to the top. Water is pumped out of the bottom of the tank.

The oil then goes through one or two more stages of separation, often in a heated vessel, which accelerates separation.

At each stage, the water is dumped out of the bottom of the vessel, oil pumped out of the middle, and gas flashed or sent to sales lines.

The water then goes to storage, and producers have two options: dispose of it or treat it and get it ready for re-use.

Water After Separation: Disposal

Drive down a road in the Permian, STACK, or any other oil and gas producing area, and you’re sure to spot a disposal well.

Trucks transport the water from a producing well to the unloading facility on these sites, where the water is pumped to the tank battery. There, the small amounts of oil and gas that remain will be “skimmed” off the top. The water will settle in saltwater tanks, and eventually be pumped down the disposal well.

What’s the Best Valve for Salt Water Disposal?

Water After Separation: Recycle

Many producers have begun to re-use water. For this process, they will often dig storage ponds for the water. It is treated there, and eventually sent back to the wellpad to be re-used in the completion process.

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