This technology expands options for fracking resources.
by Keith White
June 7, 2016

The debate about the merits of fracking has been going on for some time. Do the benefits of generating our own gas supply while reducing dependency on other countries outweigh the environmental risks that come with fracturing underground rock wells with hydraulically pressurized liquid? The benefits are endless, but risks such as water contamination and scarcity are well-documented.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, roughly 35,000 wells are fracked in the U.S. each year, requiring high volumes of freshwater. The water required is costly and inefficient to transport and retain. The amount of water used by fracking can also have a large impact on local water supplies.

While most oil and gas outfits rely on freshwater for the majority of their needs, the Texas Oil and Gas Commission recently reported that non-freshwater has become more popular over the past three years, jumping from 3 to 21 percent. While water scarcity furthered by fracking is an international issue, the challenge is especially pressing in the U.S. A recent study by the World Resources Institute warns of the consequences surrounding water demand for drilling and fracking in areas around shale resources, as “26 percent … are in areas with high and extremely high water stress.” The study goes on to say that “energy development and responsible water management must go hand in hand.”

Water is the world’s most abundant resource, but it is not always prevalent in the areas that need it most. This problem is shared in multiple regions around the world, where communities are feeling the strain of oil and gas developers who have begun work and tapped into their water supply. But available technology, such as atmospheric water generation (AWG), can reduce the draw on municipal resources in water-starved locations and provide a cost-effective way for drillers to continue their operations without draining local resources.

Water from Air

It takes 3 million to 5 million gallons of water to frack a well, so it is easy to see how the industry could benefit from alternative resources to support its operations. AWG offers one solution.

AWG extracts water directly from water vapor in the air, transforming humidity into a source of clean water at or near the point of use/distribution. The air is chilled to the dew point, and the moisture is condensed and filtered until it is pure enough to be consumed if needed. Water can be produced using 100 percent outside air in areas with humidity levels as low as 40 percent. Most systems run on electricity and only need maintenance consisting of filter changes and general cleaning.

Image 1. AWG extracts water directly from water vapor that exists in the air, transforming humidity into an abundant source of clean water at or near the point of use/distribution.Image 1. AWG extracts water directly from water vapor that exists in the air, transforming humidity into an abundant source of clean water at or near the point of use/distribution. (Courtesy of Ambient Water)

Some commercially available systems can produce anywhere from several hundred to tens of thousands of gallons of water per day. Using this technology can easily supplement—and in some cases even replace—the original source of water used to frack a well, preserving local water supplies and resources.

The Future of Oil & Gas Exploration

New technologies such as AWG are becoming increasingly common ways to provide alternative resources for clean water. California’s Monterey Shale, for example, is potentially one of the largest natural gas plays, but the cost of oil shale mining has been considered too expensive to efficiently fit into the gasoline production business model.

There are shortage issues as well, like in Texas, where hot summers and little precipitation leave farmers and shale gas developers fighting for whatever water is available, or in Louisiana, where the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer has begun to run dry.

A host of potential applications for AWG technology is available in the oil and gas industry, but the most notable is fracking. Fracking is incredibly water-intensive, so there is an obvious concern considering many premium drilling locations are located in areas suffering from water scarcity, such as California and Texas.

Drilling mud also requires moderate use of water—up to 15,000 gallons per day. Steam and/or hot water are often used in some types of formations for separation of hydrocarbons from the mineral structure to which they are bound. Water injection, used to drive hydrocarbons to higher points in the formation for recovery, also increases water consumption.

To complete these operations, water is traditionally piped in from local lakes, ponds or reserves or trucked in from further away. This can be expensive and time-consuming, and it can deplete water sources that are also relied upon to serve municipalities, leaving a struggle between residents and drillers.

Thousands of wells are being fracked in the U.S. each year, impacting local water supplies and exacerbating drought conditions that many areas are facing. Using this technology can easily supplement or even replace the original source of water used to frack a well, preserving local water supplies in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.