Oil and Gas Turns to Water Innovators to Meet New Expectations

The revolution currently taking place in oil and gas promises to fundamentally rework global economies and the environment. New hydraulic fracturing technologies are unlocking vast, new oil and gas reserves around the world. Today, the Marcellus Shale gas reserve — in the Northeastern United States — is the second largest gas field in the world, with a BTU equivalent worth more than all the oil in Saudi Arabia. Leveraging these new opportunities will require innovations in water technology from the wellhead to the homes, businesses, and vehicles that will benefit from this cleaner burning, abundant energy source.

While opportunities are vast, so too are the environmental, reputational, and regulatory risks. Oil and gas producers are more concerned than ever about the environmental consequences of production and are actively seeking greener, safer alternatives and less energy-intensive methods to generate profits, while creating a cleaner planet. Water quality tops the list. Where do opportunities exist?

Fracking itself is the result of innovation, an application of technology in a new and unexpected way. While hydraulic fracturing has been used since the 1940s, it was only with the addition of horizontal drilling and its application to shale reserves once thought unrecoverable that it achieved breakthrough results, thanks to smart water management.

At Energy Recovery, we too are working to adapt proven water technologies to solve our world’s energy challenges. Energy recovery technologies developed and applied in desalination are now being tested and adapted to gas sweetening. High pressure used during the amine gas sweetening process is now being captured and reused, eliminating energy loss and thereby reducing the costs associated with natural gas production. That’s an important milestone as America continues to reduce carbon emissions—by as much as 20 percent since 2008—due to the replacement of coal-fired electric plants with natural gas plants here in the U.S. The video above shows you more details.

We see this as the first in a number of new water technologies that will play huge future roles at all points in energy production, which I’ll be discussing further during my breakout session at this year’s Water Innovation Summit. These innovations could not come at a more welcome time. Under increased scrutiny from governments, consumers, and the media, energy producers are working hard to improve their reputation through their implied social responsibility. They understand that public sentiment about the environment represents a major threat to the ability to meet growing demand here and in emerging markets. Consequently, energy producers are more open than ever to innovations that can help them do good for their customers and shareholders, while proving that oil and gas can be produced in a way that respects the environment and reduces their own footprints around the world.