ConocoPhillips

Water Preservation

Ramesh Sharma and Austin Shields

It was a holiday they're not likely to ever forget. Instead of enjoying time with family and friends during the long May weekend, Ramesh Sharma and Austin Shields spent their days on a remote drilling site in the Permian Basin of West Texas. Months prior, the pair began collaborating on a project to use treated, recycled water during the completions process. Their goal was to utilize "produced water" - water produced normally during the course of drilling activities – instead of fresh water. Shields and his team worked closely with Sharma and our Water Solutions group, combining technology and field knowledge to formulate the plan. They first tested it on a small scale in the lab, and then refined it numerous times before deeming it worthy of use in the field. And both of the men wanted to witness the results firsthand.

Water is scarce in the Permian Basin, where there is little rainfall, and energy companies compete with agriculture for fresh water. Sharma, a Water Solutions staff process engineer, and a multidisciplinary team from the region headed by Shields, a completions engineer, looked at ways to complete wells using "challenged" water – water that is unsuitable for human or agricultural use.

"Produced water is a plentiful resource, especially in the Permian, so it makes sense to use it instead of disposing of it," Sharma said.

In addition to reducing the need for fresh water, the use of produced water means there is no need to transport large quantities of water into the drill site, greatly reducing traffic in the area and wear and tear on local roads. "It's expensive to truck around fresh water, and we're sensitive about using a vital resource," said Greg Leveille, our technology program manager, Unconventional Reservoirs. "We're trying to utilize less fresh water by developing technologies that will allow us to use more challenged water, and we're making good progress. In the Permian Basin pilot test where we used 100% recycled produced water, it cost less than if we'd used fresh water. That's good for the environment, the company and the shareholders." Shields and Sharma consider this project just the beginning.

"We're getting experience under our belt. We worked up from using 50% recycled water on the first and 75% on the second well. We used 100 % recycled water to complete the fourth and fifth wells. As of the end of October, we used 90,000 barrels of treated, recycled produced water in 30 stages of hydraulic fracturing," said Sharma. Just one example of how we advance water knowledge and share information and best practices within the company.