Water-Management Approach for Shale Operations in North America

Fig. 1—Water management in unconventional-gas developments.

Produced-water (PW) and flowback-water (FW) quality in shale projects is influenced not only by the formation, but also by the fracturing fluid introduced to the formation during hydraulic stimulation. The water produced by shale wells can contain suspended solids, dissolved solids, organics that include hydrocarbons and residual-fracturing-fluid chemicals, and bacteria. This paper describes functional water-treatment steps that target the most common removal of suspended solids and oil or condensate from PW and FW for recycling or disposal operations.


Rapid industry expansion into shale-gas and -oil development requires a reconsideration of how water management and technology are applied. What may be acceptable and fit for purpose at a smaller scale may become unsatisfactory when the business grows significantly. Water footprint and the food/stress nexus are critical concerns requiring the industry to improve continuously upon the approach followed in the past.

Selection of external water sources, securing access rights, and establishing water-offtake limits are the focus areas of water management. In some areas, freshwater resources may be scarce and the water for fracturing may need to be transported over long distances, adding to operational intensity and ­transportation-safety risks. Multiple steps are required to move the water for multiple consumers and to multiple locations. Storage facilities are required to create buffer capacity between water supply and water demand (Fig. 1 above).

Recycling of PW and FW for fracturing will reduce the consumption of new water from external sources and reduce the volume of wastewater disposal. While disposal of PW into subsurface formations can be relatively inexpensive, requirements to obtain permits for this injection are becoming more stringent. On the other hand, if suitable injection zones are not available near the producing shale development, surface discharge needs to be considered. If surface discharge is the only option, then evaporative or zero-liquid-discharge (ZLD) technologies could be required, but this could be cost-prohibitive.

This article, written by JPT Technology Editor Chris Carpenter, contains highlights of paper SPE 167057, “Water-Management Approach for Shale Operations in North America,” by C. Kuijvenhoven, V. Fedotov, D. Gallo, and P. Hagemeijer, Shell, prepared for the 2013 SPE Unconventional Resources Conference and Exhibition—Asia Pacific, Brisbane, Australia, 11–13 November. The paper has not been peer reviewed.
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Water-Management Approach for Shale Operations in North America

01 December 2014

Volume: 66 | Issue: 12


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