In the fossil fuel industry, water is essential to almost all phases of operations, and huge amounts of highly contaminated water are a by-product of the industry. In fact, by 2030, oil and gas production sites across the country are expected to produce more than 60 million barrels of wastewater per day.
Wastewater disposal is currently the primary water management practice in the United States due to the many challenges associated with wastewater treatment, such as the cost and complexity of the treatment process and high concentrations of contaminants. . However, elimination is not a long-term solution. The disposal capacity is increasingly limited and disposal in geological formations is known to induce seismicity.
While reducing the cost of technology to treat wastewater is now a practical necessity, the United States can also benefit in several ways from using treated wastewater as a resource.
Reusing wastewater = a huge step forward
Reuse. Once treated, recycled wastewater could be used in many industries beyond fossil fuels. For example, wastewater could contribute to renewable energy through its reuse in the production of hydrogen. Treated wastewater could also be used for irrigation of non-edible crops, contributing to the agricultural industry in the United States.
Water Management. Water is a fixed and precious resource, which requires our increasing attention due to climate change. Water scarcity, variability and uncertainty are becoming increasingly important, which can lead to vulnerabilities in the US energy system. And as the country transitions to a decarbonized energy industry, water management will only become more important, as many methods of decarbonization are water-intensive. Treating wastewater so that it can be recycled repeatedly in the fossil fuel industry would help reduce the energy sector’s consumption of fresh water and contribute to the responsible management of this resource by our country. .
Resource recovery. Wastewater generated by the US energy industry could also become a national source of much-needed essential minerals. Water produced from the development and production of oil and natural gas, for example, contains a variety of valuable minerals, including potentially large amounts of lithium needed for battery technologies.
Justice. Developing the capacity to reuse wastewater provides an opportunity to realize the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) commitment to energy and environmental justice. Water that is treated for reuse could increase the availability of fresh water in arid and semi-arid regions of the country and bring economic and health benefits to communities that have been affected by water resource stress and legacy pollution.
FECM’s Efforts Push the Boundaries of What’s Possible in Wastewater Treatment
It’s an exciting time to work in water management at DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM). We recently announced the creation of the Water Management Program of the Advanced Sanitation Technologies Division, which for the first time brings together all of FECM’s water management activities under one roof in order to advance affordability, reliability, sustainability and resilience of water in the energy sector. (read more in the Summer 2022 edition of the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Water-Energy Nexus News). NETL’s Produced Water Application for Beneficial Reuse, Environmental Impact and Treatment Optimization project creates an award-winning product: an open-source optimization framework for the oil and gas industry to identify produced water management practices suitable for use. And NETL’s multifunctional sorbent technology (also award-winning) represents a revolutionary, low-cost process for mitigating the devastating effects of acid mine drainage on waterways, groundwater and fragile aquatic ecosystems. The list is lengthened increasingly!
You can also help advance technology in this area. FECM recently issued a Request for Information seeking comments on the characterization, treatment, cleanup, and management of (1) wastewater from oil and natural gas development and production, and (2) legacy wastewater associated with thermal power generation. To meet the challenges of developing new treatment technologies, we need industry, academia, state and local governments, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to apply their expertise, so that together we can transform wastewater into a valuable resource for the American public.
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