Hail Shale
Now We’re Fracking with Sewage Water

When the going gets tough, the tough…frack with toilet water? That’s what one shale company in Odessa, Texas is doing after signing a $117 million deal with the city to use its treated wastewater in the company’s operations for the next 11 years, starting later this year. Reuters reports:

Pioneer is the first oil and gas company to sign a long-term wastewater supply contract with Odessa, a city of about 110,000 people. The Dallas-based company recently began construction on a pipeline network that will transport the treated water from the city’s sewage plant to one of its oilfields about 20 miles away. […]

The municipal reclaimed water the company intends to use comes from sewage plants that treat human waste and water from activities that include bathing and food preparation, according to Texas regulators.

City officials say the deal will provide a steady stream of revenue and reduces truck traffic.

The firm’s decision isn’t just about saving money (although that’s a big concern for the industry these days as oil flirts with a drop below $40 per barrel). It’s also about conserving water, something companies have tried to tackle in a number of ways, whether by fracking with brackish groundwater unsuitable for drinking or figuring out ways to recycle water already used in drilling. Pioneer, the company looking to frack with wastewater, said it hopes to eliminate the need for freshwater in its operations sometime in the next five to ten years.

Critics of fracking often point to the strain it puts on water resources as its biggest problem, whether that’s the potential for groundwater contamination or simply the consumption of such an important resource. The industry has demonstrated an ability to meet those challenges not out of some deep yearning for existing in harmony with nature, but rather because it’s simply good for the bottom line. Again, we’re seeing American shale companies iterating and innovating on the processes that set off the fracking revolution to begin with, and it’s that kind of impulse that will sustain this boom—and improve its environmental impact.

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