Managing Bakken Water Needs

Longer lateral lengths and increased frack stages per well have midstream companies and water management and research teams working feverishly to keep up with industry water treatment and transportation needs.
By Emily Aasand | June 17, 2015

Over the past few years, the oil and gas industry has seen an increase in the volume of water being used for hydraulic fracturing, due in part to longer lateral lengths and an increase in the number of frack stages per well. Bethany Kurz, senior research manager at the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, says there have been increases in the number of slickwater well stimulations which require three to four times the water volumes compared to gel-based fracks.

Kurz and her team at the EERC are well-versed in all things Bakken water. The EERC offers an array of water management services in western North Dakota. Past and ongoing projects include working with producers to evaluate saline water recycling and treatment technologies and reuse scenarios, evaluation of nontraditional water supply options, brine spill remediation, pipeline materials assessment, saltwater pipeline leak detection options, saltwater corrosion studies and evaluation of carbon dioxide storage capacity in brine formations.

“We are actively involved in looking at past trends in freshwater demand and produced water generation to better predict future fresh water needs and disposal well capacity,” says Kurz. The combination of low oil prices and the constant push for new water treatment, handling and use strategies has made Kurz, and many other water-based entities focused on the Williston Basin very busy. Their water work now could lead to major changes in the future.

Prime Time For Growth
Low oil prices have made the ideas of greater efficiencies and cost saving measures both popular terms. Pipelines and gathering systems are just one of many solutions to reduce cost for oil producers.

“There’s a need for water gathering. It’s an economical solution to producer’s requirements,” says Brandon Hoselton, northern division gathering and processing director of operations for Enable Midstream Partners LP. “Pipelines aren’t restricted like a trucking entity is with regard to the number of hours a driver can operate. We are able to somewhat base our employee base strategically. We also see a benefit to public safety with the lack of trucks on the road. Pipelines offer more of a streamlined process and that’s one of our big benefits.”

“A key challenge with respect to water is how safely we transport and store brine to minimize environmental impacts, whether that involves pipeline transport of brine from well pads to disposal locations or stage of large volumes of produced water on well pads for use in hydraulic fracturing,” says Kurz. “In the past, as activity in the Bakken began to ramp up, there were issues associated with access to fresh water supplies. Those issues have largely been alleviated as a result of substantial improvements to our water supply infrastructure through water supply pipeline projects.”

LaMarr Barnes, vice president of marketing and business development at U.S. Water, says the current low price of oil is what’s driving U.S. Water deep into the Bakken right now.

“Our experiences, especially in Colorado, with a few key midstream players have helped companies meet some of their requirements to reduce cost in production, so they’re really screaming for us to come help them do the same thing for Bakken shale play,” says Barnes.

AE2S Water Solutions provides solutions to industry needs for freshwater delivery and produced water collection systems, water treatment and reuse and fluid waste disposal, and they too see technology playing a big part in creating efficiencies and cost savings in the current price environment.

“Our instrumentation and controls group is busy programming and installing Supervisory and Control and Data Acquisition systems,” says Andrea Boe, business development and corporate resources director at AE2S Water Solutions. “Additionally, our operations technology team developed an operations software application called OpWorks that is a way for operators to be more efficient in their day-to-day work life through streamlined logging and reporting.”

Fulfilling Water Needs
Increased slickwater wells have resulted in increased volumes of produced water, causing a demand for safe transportation of such liquid. As a result, the need for water gathering lines continues to become more and more prevalent in the Williston Basin.

“As the number of Bakken wells has expanded, the volume of produced water being generated as a result of oil and gas extraction has increased over 300 percent and has necessitated additional salt water disposal well locations,” Kurz says.

The EERC says many of its partners are interested in solutions to some of the pipeline-related challenges that they are experiencing, including improved pipeline leak detection methods, development of best management practices for pipeline installation and evaluation of various pipeline materials.

Enable Midstream Partners LP is one of many owners and operators of gathering systems who supply mitigation solutions to such clients.

Enable Midstream was formed as a merger of two midstream businesses, one that was owned by CenterPoint Energy Inc. and one owned by OGE Energy Corp. in 2013. CenterPoint began its work in the Bakken before the companies formed a joint venture and together expanded operations to 11 states.

“The Bakken was part of the legacy, CenterPoint, and that construction began in 2012,” says Hoselton.

“We think that when we brought these two companies together that the real value came from the fact the CenterPoint side was more involved in transportation and storage and the OGE side had more experience in the gas gathering and processing side in different basins,” says Sandra Longcrier, communications senior manager of Enable Midstream. “We brought those two companies together with very little overlap and we’re able to offer our customers more opportunities because of that.”

Enable Midstream has two existing water gathering systems in the Williston Basin, both in various stages of operation, construction and commission. The Bear Den Crude & Produced Water Gathering System is located in Dunn and McKenzie counties in North Dakota and its Nesson Produced Water Gathering System is in Williams and Mountrail counties. Both systems, when fully built, will total approximately 160 miles of crude and produced water gathering pipeline.

“In the Bakken, trucking commodities is the predominant method of getting it [produced water] from point of origin to production facilities to an interconnecting pipe or rail terminal, so there’s a real need for infrastructure for gathering and transmission systems up in the Bakken and we’re very fortunate to be able to provide that,” Hoselton says. “Pipelines give 24/7 access to producers and provides a level of safety to the public that may not otherwise be there due to factors such as weather conditions.”

Enable’s first gathering project, the Bear Den system, was completed in April and is fully operational. The company broke ground on the Nesson system last fall and started flowing oil into the system in March. The company began making deliveries to an interconnecting pipe via the Nesson system in May. The Nesson system, along with the Bear Den system, services oil producer XTO Energy Inc.

“That process—from beginning to end—for that first phase was about seven months,” adds Hoselton. “Of course, we’re still in construction, but we are currently operating.”

Phase two of construction for the Nesson system began in April and is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year. When completed, the system is expected to have a capacity of 30,000 barrels of oil per day with more than 69 origin points to gather crude oil and produced water.

“Our customers continue to have a need for the delivery of energy to key markets,” says Lynn Bourdon, president and CEO of Enable Midstream. “We have a proven track record of effectively and efficiently deploying capital to meet that need.”

While water infrastructure—pipelines—for transporting freshwater and produced water have come a long way over the past several years, there are still some areas in need of infrastructure.

“The biggest issues right now is obtaining easement from landowners, and at a reasonable cost, in order to continue placing this important infrastructure in service,” says Boe.

Integrated Services
U.S. Water, an integrated water management company, works directly with midstream companies to efficiently and effectively maintain their abilities to operate pipelines. Those pipeline management issues are being addressed through U.S. Water’s corrosion protection, deposit control and pipeline cleaning services.

“We’re an integrated offering company that offers sustainable chemistry equipment and engineering services,” says Barnes. “In the midstream oil and gas market, we are focused on providing a more comprehensive approach to asset integrity in pipeline and a more complete attempt to solve root cause problems in those pipelines.”

U.S. Water explicitly trains its field representatives to always look for a way to solve the underlying problem so the company can give the best possible protection to its midstream customers.

“We’re not just an equipment company, we’re not just a water treatment company and we’re not just an oilfield chemical company. We’re all three of those and sometimes we find opportunities to provide a better combination of those solutions than you would be likely to get from three separate suppliers,” says Barnes.

According to AE2S, pipelines are still the safest, most effective mode of transportation, and they create opportunities in improving the mode of transportation.

“For us, it means installing advanced technology so that we can monitor and control gathering systems from anywhere, even our cell phones,” says Boe. “It means creating solid risk management and crisis communication plans so that we could quickly react to any situation. Operations is entering a new era in the Bakken and HB1358 laid the groundwork in guiding this process.”

The other side of U.S. Water’s business is traditional water treatment, which comes into play in the gas plants—cooling water, boiling water, and waste water treatment.

“We approach each water treatment opportunity as one-off engineering projects because the issues are so local,” says Barnes. “We’re usually involved when there’s some kind of treatment involved to improve the quality of the water to make it fit for use for whatever process or opportunity has presented itself to dispose of the water.”

“Because the oil industry evolves so quickly and has such a strong desire to use water as efficiently as possible, we see continued emphasis on the research and advancement of recycle in the Bakken,” says Boe. “Although recycle isn’t quite a critical economical point right now, it is important not to be short-sighted and proactively create an infrastructure system that could be easily adapted to a close looped system.”

Reacting to industry need isn’t the only element of water growth for firms like U.S. Water. Although the company hasn’t seen a direct impact on its oil and gas business from regulatory pressures, it is always cognizant that it could someday. What the company has seen is that discharge regulations for its industrial customers, including gas plants, have required them to get more efficient with water—to reduce the amount of water that they discharge in the environment and in some cases reduce specific contaminants that have traditionally been able to discharge in the past.

“One thing we are seeing in the Bakken is regulations around phosphorus discharge from a cooling system at a gas plant,” says Barnes. “The problem is that all traditional water cooling treatments contain phosphorus and phosphorus has become a significant contaminant of generating plant and algae growth for many lakes and streams. To address that issue, we developed a series of products called PhosZero with a specific blend of chemistries that we call E-FeX Technology.”

The team has found success with its PhosZero technology in Wisconsin when the Wisconsin State Department of Natural Resources made the determination to reduce allowable phosphorus limits to 0.075 parts per million (ppm) and as low as 0.04 ppm for facilities that discharge to more stressed waterways.

Future Water Considerations
Kurz says that the EERC will continue to play a key role helping the state and industry develop and implement cost-effective water management strategies to improve overall operational efficiency and to reduce the environmental footprint of oil and gas-related activities.

“With the input and support of our state and industrial partners, we are able to identify key water-related issues and utilize our diverse team of scientists and engineers to develop practical, stakeholder-supported solutions,” says Kurz.

“We are participating in the stakeholder gathering committee being led by the EERC and hope that several of our existing and pending projects can help serve as pilot projects and leading examples of how pipeline installation, monitoring and leak detection can be used successfully in the Bakken,” adds Boe.

For Enable, the future water needs of the Bakken present opportunities for growth.

“We want to add additional sites and points to bring into our system, but, as production declines and the amount of produced water increases, we just see the need for that service to increase over time,” says Hoselton. “We try to build very robust systems with capacity that allows for expansion in the future with minimal environmental impact to the environment and for landowners.”

If oil prices continue to stay low and companies aren’t drilling as many wells, there will be pressure to find ways to discharge produced water that might not have as many places to go, a trend that U.S. Water is watching closely.

“We believe that now, our focus on making oil separations better at the wellhead, solving pipeline midstream problems at their source, and really having a more complete approach to asset integrity to the pipelines, is going to have a very high demand in the near future,” says Barnes.

Author: Emily Aasand
Staff Writer, The Bakken magazine