Countries and operators that are embarking on the global development of shale gas resources can benefit from the United States’ experience in water management from shale gas operations, according to a new report from Accenture.
The report – “Water and shale gas development: leveraging the US experience in new shale developments” – identifies water as one of the key challenges that make the development of shale gas different from conventional gas.
The research looks at how countries with proven reserves, such as Argentina, China, Poland, and South Africa, can leverage U.S. lessons and trends in water regulation, water use and management, and water movements to develop shale gas reserves economically and sustainably.
The report also identifies implications of shale gas development for oil and gas companies and highlights areas in which these operators should aim to build their capabilities to succeed in the current operating landscape.
“Successful oil and gas operators will be those that understand the local water challenges, leverage the learnings from the U.S. plays and develop the right water sourcing, use/reuse, treatment, disposal and supply chain strategy,” says Melissa Stark, managing director and Clean Energy lead for Accenture's energy industry group. “One key opportunity for new geographies where infrastructure is a challenge is to explore sharing the development of infrastructure, water treatment facilities and the development of the local supply market.”
The report emphasizes that countries will have different issues, options, and solutions to the water challenges depending on the geology of the shale and the particular regional characteristics.
For example, the report compares the water sourcing challenges in South Africa’s Karoo basin with Poland, and shows how different the flowback volumes and total dissolved solids (TDS) levels are across United States play. Flowback is the injected fracture fluid mixed with the formation water containing dissolved minerals from the formation that flows back to the surface after fracking. Flowback water contains clays, chemical additives, dissolved metal ions and TDS.
The report also emphasizes that in this constantly evolving landscape, water management options can change and that proactive engagement with operators in developing regulation will help the implementation of effective solutions and reduce the cost of compliance.
One area that provides immediate opportunities for some operators is logistics, according to the report. Implementing a logistics operating model that addresses the water movement challenges will improve congestion, efficiency and reporting of water movements. In some new markets, there are opportunities to design “for the basin” and even to share excess capacity and infrastructure, such as water treatment facilities.
The report points out that there will be increased focus on reducing the water intensity of production processes, and operators can achieve this by delivering efficiencies in operations, and by maximizing opportunities for end-to-end reuse of wastewater and water treatment. As the report notes, there are opportunities to work with treatment suppliers to gain leverage from new water treatment technologies.
Operators will also need to carefully assess the increased requirements for data on the flows of all materials throughout the life cycle of shale gas operations. Capturing, storing and reporting this data will require a new level of data management for operators – as well as regulators -- to effectively use the data to support environmental impact assessments.