Apache is leading the industry in developing ways to reduce the volume of drinking water used in areas where it is in short supply.
Apache’s Permian Region has developed a unique system using brackish and recycled produced water to maintain an aggressive drilling program in without competing for scarce freshwater supplies in Irion County’s Barnhart area.
Apache also has recycled more than 1.2 million barrels of produced water in the Granite Wash play in the Stiles Ranch area, Wheeler County, Texas, in 2013. The company is planning to expand the water storage and pipeline system in 2014, said Bill Coppoc, completions manager for Apache’s Central Region. Wheeler County is in the Texas Panhandle in the Anadarko Basin.
The Permian Region drilled about 75 Wolfcamp Shale horizontals in the Barnhart area of West Texas in 2013. Completing each well with multiple hydraulic fracturing stages requires about 200,000 barrels of water. With freshwater in short supply, Apache has developed a system to treat water used to complete earlier wells and use it again. The produced water is supplemented with brackish water from the Santa Rosa aquifer that is not suitable for human consumption or agriculture.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process that uses sand, water and some chemicals to crack open shale formations with very low permeability in a way that allows hydrocarbons to flow to the wellbore and to the surface. While the Permian Basin has been an important oil and gas province for nearly 100 years, advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies have opened up a new boom as Apache and other operators develop the Wolfcamp and Cline shales and other unconventional formations.
“We decided to build the facilities at Barnhart because we have a large contiguous acreage position – 38,000 acres – and we believed we would recover the investment over the course of drilling a lot of wells,” said Lucian Wray, region production manager for Permian South. “Water is a local commodity; it made sense for Apache to recycle produced water and use brackish water in the Barnhart area, but you may not be able to make the same case in all places in the Permian.”
“Our research has shown that drawing on the Santa Rosa in the Barnhart area of Irion County should not have any impact on the freshwater aquifer,” he said.
Making an adequate rate of return on wells drilled in shale plays requires a constant focus on reducing costs. The Permian Region has reduced the cost of drilling and completing an average Wolfcamp well by more than $1 million by reducing drilling days and cutting frac costs. The money saved by reducing the cost of obtaining water and then disposing of flowback water is significant.
Much of West Texas is still very dry after a severe drought in 2011 and some water systems remain under stress, according to state regulators. Just a few miles from Apache’s operations, officials in the small community of Barnhart reported Nov. 20 that the town’s only water well had failed.
Here’s how the system works:
"In these plays, every dollar counts," said John Christmann, executive vice president and chief operating officer – North America. The Ketchum Mountain area operating team also developed a plan to transfer excess flowback water to a Clearfork formation waterflood program in the same area.
Scooter Foreman, the Ketchum Mountain area’s water development foreman, is in charge of making sure the system keeps running and the water is delivered where it’s needed, when it’s needed.
Foreman said he was supported by Grant DeFosse from the Horizontal Drilling and Completions Applications Group.
Right now, other operators, service companies and public officials are watching Apache’s innovations.
“We are ahead of everyone," said Foreman.
In the Stiles Ranch area in the Central Region, Coppoc said, the recycling system has capacity to store 240,000 barrels of produced water – enough for almost three hydraulic fracturing stages – in above-ground grain bins that have been modified with double plastic liners to prevent spills. When produced water is not available, Apache uses fresh water from the Ogallala aquifer.