Where Will Eagle Ford Shale Frac Water Go?

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Oil and gas wells in the huge Eagle Ford shale discovery in South Texas will require hydraulic fracturing or a “frac job” to complete. According to Chesapeake Energy’s website, drilling a horizontal well in the Eagle Ford shale uses well over six million gallons of water. Other estimates of water use by Eagle Ford shale drilling put this amount even higher.  Despite much media attention focused on “frac jobs”, this process has been proven to be generally very safe when regulated. In Texas the procedure has been used for over fifty years without a case of groundwater contamination. Despite that fact, Eagle Ford shale frac water contains toxic chemicals such as benzene, and  must be disposed of properly after the process has been completed. Much of the water used remains in the Eagle ford shale formation after fracking. What comes back during the flowback and production process must be disposed of. Frac water from Eagle Ford shale wells will mostly be disposed of in disposal wells. These same wells are used to dispose of naturally occurring saltwater that is often produced with oil and gas.  There are over 50,000 permitted injection and disposal wells in Texas.  Below is a photo of a saltwater injection facility near Midland from Energy Industry Photos.

Trucks waiting to unload at a saltwater disposal facility.

Trucks generally transport used frac water or produced saltwater to a facility such as the one seen above, where it is pumped deep underground in a disposal well. Other wells, known as injection wells, use this type of waste water to help produce oil and gas in marginal reservoirs by forcing it out. This is known as secondary recovery.  There are a handful of companies who specialize in cleaning up used frac water so that it can be reused on the surface instead of being injected in disposal wells. So far the technology of cleaning used frac water has not been widely implemented by oil and gas companies do to its cost.

Below is an illustration of an injection or disposal well.  For more info on Texas law regarding disposal wells for Eagle Ford shale frac water see Texas RRC

Eagle Ford shale water use is going to be one of the hottest issues in the region in the next few months. Literally thousands upon thousands of oil and gas wells will be drilled in the Eagle Ford shale and each will require millions of gallons of valuable water. In an area known for droughts and scarcity of water, the fact  of that  this much valuable water will be pumped out, used and then disposed of forever in deep injection wells  is something every South Texas resident should be concerned about. The Carrizo Wilcox aquifer spans a large area across South Texas and provides drinking water for towns such as Cotulla Texas and many other communities, in addition to ranches and farms which depend on it for agricultural use. This aquifer is already being depleted much faster than it is being recharged and water takes literally hundreds of years to move across the sandstone formation from the recharge zone.

Below is an excerpt of a paper found on the AAPG website about Eagle Ford shale water use

Drilling in the Eagle Ford shale is about to consume literally billions of gallons of water over the next few years. Once it is pumped out, it is gone from slow recharge aquifers such as the the Carrizo – Wilcox forever.   We desperately need domestic sources of oil and gas, however water use in the Eagle Ford shale drilling area needs to be closely monitored.  Water in the Carrizo – Wilcox aquifer is a valuable resource to South Texas residents and something must be done to ensure that this resource remains for present and future generations.  Counties, towns, and  property owners should not be blinded by the millions of dollars of Eagle Ford shale oil revenue they will be getting and make sure that groundwater sources such as the Carrizo Wilcox, Queen City sand and other aquifers are used responsibly. The truth is, you can live in South Texas without oil, but you can’t live there without water. The issue is being investigated by a number of private and state agencies, such as the Texas Water Development Board. Some of those private studies showing a minimal impact on the Carrizo Wilcox aquifer are now outdated, since even smaller oil and gas well spacing may be allowed  in the play, thus more wells drilled and fracked than was initially forecasted.

Note: Some groundwater that is pumped out will be reused to frac other wells, but due to logistics issues such as “where will the next well to be fracked be located, ready, etc” storing, transporting and treating millions of gallons of used frac water for re-use may be impractical for some oil companies. This is because the Eagle Ford shale covers a huge undeveloped swath  of South Texas,  which consists of large ranches with miles of bad roads.  It will often be more economical to truck flowback water to the nearest disposal well and drill a new Carrizo – Wilcox water well to obtain water for the next frac job. Once it is removed from the aquifer, it will not be put back. Recharge of the Carrizo aquifer is a very slow process that takes hundreds of years.

For more about the process of hydraulic fracturing as used in the Eagle Ford shale and other areas, see What Is Hydraulic Fracturing or Frac Jobs?

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  • 9 Responses to “Where Will Eagle Ford Shale Frac Water Go?”

    1. […] more one use of water for Eagle Ford shale well drilling and disposal of frac water, see: Eagle Ford shale frac water disposal. VN:F [1.9.3_1094]please wait…Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)VN:F [1.9.3_1094]Rating: +1 (from 1 […]

    2. Nick Privett on 22. Aug, 2010

      Operators are drilling Carrizo water wells to obtain enough fresh water for the frac jobs. Flow back frac water from the Eagleford shale is treated & reused, in most cases.

    3. Mike Green on 22. Aug, 2010

      Some landowners are practically giving their water away to unscrupulous water agents for Eagle Ford oil and gas operators. First, the landowners eagerly rushed to sign flawed oil and gas leases for peanuts, and now like sheep to the slaughter, they sign away their water rights for the sweet talk of a song and a dance. Tie a hundred dollar bill on a string and drag it through South Texas and just watch how many ignorant landowners you will reel in. I have never seen such ignorance, such folly, such sheer stupidity as what I have seen landowners in South Texas do these past couple of years. It’s hard to feel sorry for them, because a fool and his land were lucky enough to have ever gotten together in the fist place. They foolishly place permanent encumbrances on their land in the blink of an eye. The shrewd deal they believe they made today will become their heirs nightmare tomorrow. When they ultimately learn the legal meaning of “run with the land” abd their failure to negotiate “termination of rights” it will be too late and their “expert” oil and gas attorney will be no where to be found.

    4. Nick Privett on 23. Aug, 2010

      While there must be some give away somewhere, the land owners I know about have not foolishly given anything away. The current drilling rush is a direct result of most of the operators having to sign 3 year or less leases with drill to earn clauses containing continuous drilling operation clauses or the lease reverts back to the owner after the primary term. If the landowner has a sufficient water source they have sold water by either the barrel produced or footage drilled. The owners that do not have a sufficient source of water have negotiated equipped water wells (pumps, wellheads, tubing, lines, etc.) & holding reservoirs (ponds) that are assigned to them when the drilling has been completed.

    5. Mike Green on 23. Aug, 2010

      I confess up front that I have not seen all the water contract documents that have been signed in South Texas. However, I have seen some, and those I saw amounted to a sale of landowner water rights to the landman. The contracts I saw were pitched to buy water at a specific rate, but buried in the contract was a clause transfering/selling the water rights to the landman. Anybody entering into a permanent encumbrance of their land effectively selling the water rights to their property in exchange for a few hundred or few thousand dollars is an uninformed sucker.

      The contracts I have seen are outright sales of the landowners water rights. The contracts I have seen prohibit the landowner from selling water to any other person. These contracts don’t require a minimum payment, or for that matter, any payment at all. Long story short, some landowners are signing very bad contracts that transfer their water rights to the landman, prohibit the landowner from selling water to any other person, and make the contract a permanent encumbrance on their land for all time. Landowners I know, have not been paid anything yet, and might not get paid. The landman will probably sell the water rights he buys from those landowners and never drill a well or build a tank or doing anything at all. When the water rights are severed, they are gone forever and the landman owns the rights. The landowners need to understand that the landman is going to skin them if they can.

    6. Mike Green on 23. Aug, 2010

      The following clause is in one of the contracts that many landowners have signed:
      “The term of this Agreement shall be three (3) years from the Effective Date stated above, and as long thereafter as Purchaser continues to use fresh water from the Land.”
      That might not sound like it, but that is a permanent encumbrance on the land and another clause keeps the landowner from ever selling water to anyone else. That clause is:
      “All rights granted to Purchaser by Seller’s shall be exclusive. No agreements shall be made by Seller’s with third parties for the purpose of granting to any third parties the right to purchase, transport, and/or deliver fresh water from the Land.”
      Then for the fait accompli the following clause is added:
      “Purchaser has the right at any time, without the consent of Seller’s, to assign this Agreement and the rights granted, in whole or in part. ”

      A lot of gullible people are really getting hurt by unscrupulous landmen.

    7. awlbidnz on 23. Aug, 2010

      Wow, that’s some awfully “slick” land grabbing. In the area I am familiar I think the Austin Chalk boom/bust land grab from several years ago had educated the land owners…Your area must be a new area to development & didn’t have the scares from previous uncscrupulous land men.

    8. Mike Green on 24. Aug, 2010

      There has been much discussion in recent years about how water rights will become more valuable to landowners than their oil and gas mineral estate. Under the guise of obtaining water to frac Eagle Ford wells, some unscrupulous landmen are persuading some landowners to sign onerous water purchase agreements. These landmen are using clever false flag water purchase agreements to rob the landowner of his water rights forever. The landowner doesn’t get paid anything, just the illusion that the water agent will purchase vast quantities of water from him for use to frac Eagle Ford wells at some future date. It’s much like during the days of the pirates when they would fly false colors to dupe ships at sea.

    9. awlbidnz on 24. Aug, 2010

      If everyone would step back & think about this you can see why protecting water rights is so important. Lack of fresh water will be the demise of the human race, not oil, coal or uranium. We can survive without fossil fuels but, only for a very short time without fresh water. All landowners should be very wary of the landmen Mike speaks of.