Desalination to grow in importance to Texas producers
BY KURT ABRAHAM, Executive Editor
SAN ANTONIO -- During 2012, the Eagle Ford shale had a $61-billion economic impact on Texas while supporting 116,000 new jobs. Furthermore, during every year for the next decade, the Eagle Ford is expected to create 127,000 additional jobs. However, this incredible growth could be threatened, if there is not enough water available to fulfill hydraulic fracturing and other upstream operational needs, said Paul Choules, senior V.P. for business development at water treatment specialist company Water Standard.
Speaking to the Energy, Air & Water Conference of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers in San Antonio yesterday, Choules said that despite recent rains in some parts of Texas, roughly 90-95% of the state remains in some level of drought. “Considering that shale producers, alone, across the U.S. used 25 billion gallons of water last year, this becomes a real concern,” said Choules. However, he also suggested that there are ready solutions to the problem of producers competing with other commercial entities and residences for water supplies in Texas.
“Desalination is a growing alternative to the water supply problem,” said Choules. “Texas is fortunate to have large supplies of brackish water that could be converted to more readily usable resources through desalination.” Choules explained that brackish water is defined as “water that is distastefully salty but significantly less salty than seawater.” Desalination, he continued, removes the majority of salt from salty water. This is achieved by pushing water through a membrane that acts as a sieve of sorts. Larger compounds, like salt and bacteria, are too large to pass through the membrane. There is also a thermal desalination process used in the Middle East, based on evaporation and the subsequent condensation of the steam.
In oil field applications, filtration is used to remove total suspended solids (TSS’s), said Choules. Pressurized membrane technologies, such as reverse osmosis (RO) and nanofiltration (NF) are used for salt and hardness removal. He noted that over 11 billion gallons per day of RO and electrodialysis are installed around the world now.
There is a precedent for using desalination in Texas. Way back on June 21, 1961, President John F. Kennedy pushed a button that remotely started operations at five early desalination plants across the U.S., including one in Freeport, Texas, along the coastline, southwest of Galveston and Houston. In addition, El Paso is the site of one of the world’s largest inland desalination plants. A joint project of El Paso Water Utilities and the U.S. Army’s Fort Bliss, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant produces 27.5 million gallons of fresh water daily.