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INDUSTRY FOCUS


Roger K. Rodiek: No Current Economic Alternatives to Subsurface Produced Fluid Disposal Wells, So Let’s Operate


Them with Best Practices Interview by Evan Pattak, Managing Editor


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For the last 40 years, the oil and gas industry has been utiliz- ing produced fluid disposal wells, also known as underground injection control (UIC) wells, deep injection wells or brine dis- posal wells. It’s estimated that there are more than 150,000 such wells in the U.S. operating safely as designed, with no significant damage to the environment or public health. These UIC wells are receiving both produced formation water (brine) and frac fluid returns (after recycling); collectively, these will be referred to as “produced fluid” in this article.


But Pennsylvania, scene of the most extensive Marcellus de- velopment, hosts only a handful of such wells—seven opera- tional, two plugged and three with permits pending. Ohio, by contrast, has 191 operational UIC wells and 32 in permitting stages. There also are 74 disposal wells in West Virginia. One obstacle to more widespread use of UIC wells in Pennsylvania has been public concern about potential drinking water con- tamination and seismicity, fears exacerbated by reports linking UIC wells in the Youngstown area to recent seismic activity.


Can the shale industry find ways to minimize the risks (and the public perception of those risks) associated with UIC wells so that more can be designed and commissioned in Pennsylva- nia? It’s an important question, as drillers in the state disposed of more than 4 million barrels of brine using injection wells in 2012 and generate more than 7 million barrels of frac fluid returns per year, of which about 20 percent (1.4 million barrels) must be disposed of after recycling.


Roger K. Rodiek is well positioned to understand these issues. As business development manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff, he coordinates the company’s new business engagements for engineering, procurement and construction activities in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins. His expertise includes sub- surface energy storage, produced fluid handling and disposal, and small-scale LNG projects.


20 Marcellus Quarterly 2014


He also serves as the UIC Subcommittee co-chair of the Water Resources and Waste Management Committee for the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC). In that role, he regularly com- municates with elected officials and state and federal regula- tors on crafting the best public policy for underground injection.


MQ asked Rodiek for his views on the current state of the art and where future developments might lead. While the situation includes many variables, Rodiek made one thing clear: better (cheaper and safer) alternatives to subsurface produced fluid disposal wells “are not on the horizon.”


MQ: Will we see viable alternatives to deep injection wells in the near future?


Rodiek: I believe UIC wells will continue to be the state of the art due to the massive volumes of liquid that have to be dealt with. We’re talking about somewhere in the order of 57 million barrels per day of produced water associated with hy- drocarbon production in the U.S. Everybody in the world would love to manage this problem. In the past, people have used evaporation ponds, but you can’t do that in Pennsylvania; the evaporation rate isn’t high enough. Evaporation ponds aren’t an ideal solution in any case because there’s still a chance of groundwater pollution through breaches in containment.


You also have people looking to get rid of fluids through crys- tallization, but then you still must do something with the sol- ids. Ultimately, you send the solids to a landfill and hope that they’re handled well. Region 3 of the Environmental Protection Agency is not real high on that. A lot of fluid is used as road salt in winter—that’s a legitimate use. People also are trying to perfect the science of reverse osmosis, which uses a semiper- meable membrane to contain the large contaminate molecules (mostly salt) on one side and relatively clean water in the other side of the membrane. That results in a concentrated waste stream for subsurface disposal.


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