Quantity of flowback and produced waters from unconventional oil and gas exploration

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Jan 1;574:314-321. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.09.069. Epub 2016 Oct 14.


The management and disposal of flowback and produced waters (FP water) is one of the greatest challenges associated with unconventional oil and gas development. The development and production of unconventional natural gas and oil is projected to increase in the coming years, and a better understanding of the volume and quality of FP water is crucial for the safe management of the associated wastewater. We analyzed production data using multiple statistical methods to estimate the total FP water generated per well from six of the major unconventional oil and gas formations in the United States. The estimated median volume ranges from 1.7 to 14.3millionL (0.5 to 3.8milliongal) of FP per well over the first 5-10years of production. Using temporal volume production and water quality data, we show a rapid increase of the salinity associated with a decrease of FP production rates during the first months of unconventional oil and gas production. Based on mass-balance calculations, we estimate that only 4-8% of FP water is composed of returned hydraulic fracturing fluids, while the remaining 92-96% of FP water is derived from naturally occurring formation brines that is extracted together with oil and gas. The salinity and chemical composition of the formation brines are therefore the main limiting factors for beneficial reuse of unconventional oil and gas wastewater.

Keywords: Brines; Flowback fluids; Hydraulic fracturing; Produced water; Shale gas; Tight oil; Unconventional energy; Wastewater.