The Water-Energy Nexus for Hydraulic Fracturing
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The water energy nexus represents the intersection of water use, energy production, electricity generation, and waste generation and disposal. The rapid rise of unconventional natural gas and oil production through the combined processes of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have shifted the energy dynamic in the United States. Concurrently, the rising utilization of unconventional gas and oil production has intensified the water use for hydraulic fracturing and generation of flowback and produced water associated with shale gas and tight oil production. Among the major environmental risks associated with the rise of unconventional oil and gas exploration water availability, water contamination from leaking or disposal of wastewater, and adequate disposal of the wastewater are the key issues associated with the water-energy nexus. This dissertation aims to quantify the water use for hydraulic fracturing across the U.S., evaluate the water use for electricity production from natural gas in comparison to coal combustion, estimate the flowback and produced water production, and assess possible recycling of oilfield water through irrigation in California.
This dissertation describes the water footprint of hydraulic fracturing by examining total water use, water use per well, water use per length of horizontal well, and the changes in water use through time. The data show that hydraulic fracturing water use per well has been increasing between early stages (2008-2012) to later stages (2012-2016) of operation. In addition to water use, this dissertation estimated waste water generated from unconventional oil and gas wells and find a concurrent increase in flowback and produced water (FP water) per well through time. Using salinity as a marker to distinguish FP water from water injected for hydraulic fracturing, this dissertation observes the sequestration of the injected freshwater, while the return flow composed primarily of more saline formation brines entrapped within the shale formations.
In addition, this this dissertation explored two downstream impacts of the increasing water use and FP water generation. First, as abundant natural gas resources from the expansion of hydraulic fracturing have shifted the electricity sector from primarily coal- to primarily natural gas-fired, this study examined the impact increasing water use associated with hydraulic fracturing has had on power plant lifecycle water consumption and withdrawal. The study found that despite increasing water use for hydraulic fracturing, natural gas-fired generation on average used less water for cooling relative to coal-fired generation. Finally, this this dissertation examined the risks from recycling of oilfield produced water (OPW) as an agricultural makeup water source. The data from field studies in California show that by using low salinity OPW, farmers are able to successfully recycle OPW without risking metals accumulation in soil and consequently in crop and human health.
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