Disposal Solutions Inc. is focused on recycling fracking water
BY KYLE ARNOLD World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 12, 2013
1/12/13 at 6:59 AM
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OKEMAH - When a tanker truck pulls up to the Disposal Solutions station in rural Okfuskee County, the driver can hop out for a quick snack and restroom break while a pump sucks out nearly 3,500 gallons of muddy, oily water in just 15 minutes.
In another quarter-hour, the truck is refilled with clean water and can head out to any of the hundreds of oil-well sites across the region.
Exploration and production companies are doubling back on old wells in Oklahoma, using the hydraulic fracturing process to extract more oil and natural gas from deposits that were once considered pumped dry.
"Until a few years ago there wasn't a problem with water, and no one was even thinking about reusing it," said Charles Culbreath, owner of Culbreath Oil & Gas Co. Inc. and the new Disposal Solutions Inc. venture. "But there hasn't been nearly as much water to go around in the last few years, and pretty soon we could be fighting over it."
Culbreath plans to have his operation running at full capacity in about two weeks. Disposal Solutions will pump well-site water from trucks, put it in retention ponds where it can be cleansed of chemicals, dirt and rocks, and send it back out to drilling operations.
The concept is relatively new but has become widespread as companies such as Houston-based Apache Corp., which has offices in Tulsa, and Continental Resources and Devon Energy of Oklahoma City try to head off any potential shortage of water for hydraulic fracturing.
A study released last month by the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a "fracking" project uses 65,000 to 13 million gallons of water, which is pumped deep underground to break up shale and force crude oil and natural gas to the surface.
With more than 12,000 hydraulic fracturing operations nationwide, Culbreath said there is a need to look now for a solution to water demand, especially with droughts plaguing the country's midsection the last two years. Adequate water supplies also have become worrisome for farmers, rural water districts and municipalities.
While water consumption for fracking may seem high, it's on par with many other industrial activities such as factories and power plants. According to the Oklahoma Economic Resources Board, about 2.3 percent of the state's water goes to oil and gas drilling activities.
Apache reports that it recycled more than 32 million gallons of water worldwide in 2011, cutting its consumption by 75 percent.
For Disposal Solutions, the process works by pumping the used liquid into tanks and retention ponds.
In the first tank, the fluid settles and the leftover oil, which is lighter than water, floats. The company estimates that about 1 percent of the used fluid is oil, which is turned into a money-making by-product of the recycling process.
The fluid is then sent to a holding pond and mixed with micro-organisms to help clean it.
What's left is water, and while it is nowhere near clean enough for public drinking, it can be pumped back into production wells.
Culbreath said his operation can recycle used fracking water three to four times.
Still, the process isn't cheap for producers. An oil well that uses 90,000 gallons of water will cost about $45,000 for its disposal.
The alternative is to pump the water into disposal wells, which are spent oil and gas wells that are lined with concrete to prevent leakage.
"There isn't an oil and gas man today that isn't trying to do the best he can to keep this industry clean," Culbreath said. "We know there are concerns" about hydraulic fracturing.
Culbreath believes his operation can make a profit by serving drillers throughout central Oklahoma and western Arkansas.
He said he has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars in the facility - an investment he hopes will start to pay off soon.
Original Print Headline: Water from waste
Kyle Arnold 918-581-8380
Michael Cook, a ramp attendant at Disposal Solutions' recycling facility near Okemah, unhooks a hose from a tanker truck Tuesday while driver Byron Spencer looks on. The company accepts wastewater produced during the fracking process. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Wastewater disposal equipment rises into the sky at Disposal Solutions' recycling facility outside Okemah on Tuesday. The company accepts wastewater produced during the fracking process. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World