Houston Chronicle

Clean water, cheap oil and fresh air

- Jonathan Diamond, assistant business editor jonathan.diamond@chron.com

One of the best parts of putting together a product as diverse in its coverage as Texas Inc. is sharing the nuggets reporters uncover in the course of their reporting.

This week’s revelation comes thanks to Sergio Chapa, who spent time with Gradiant Energy Services Chief Executive Danny Jimenez. His company, based in Denver but with offices in Houston, is working on technology to handle the vast amounts of wastewater associated with hydraulic fracturing. Its proprietar­y process converts water to steam and segregates all the nasty stuff left behind.

The vast stores of oil hidden beneath the Permian Basin have been discussed for some time. How much water lies beneath, the remnant of an ancient sea, not as much.

“The Permian Basin is essentiall­y a water field with oil in it,” Jimenez says. “Depending on where you’re drilling, you can find high water-to-oil ratios, even four to 10 barrels of water for each barrel of oil.”

Consider what that means: Chapa reports that, beginning this month, the Permian Basin is expected to start producing more than 4.8 million barrels of crude oil per day. “Gradiant Energy Services estimates that the region produces about 15 million barrels of wastewater per day — roughly 630 million gallons — enough to fill more than 950 Olympic-sized swimming pools.”

The water-to-steam process is pitched as a more sustainabl­e approach that the current pipelining and trucking that moves most of the water out of the region, and is a small piece of a greener approach the industry has started to take as it grapples with the role it plays in climate change.

The complexity of the conundrum is illustrate­d by columnist Chris Tomlinson, who spent some time recently with Robert Tudor, chairman and chief executive of Houston energy investment bank Tudor Pickering & Holt.

“If we slash fossil fuels too quickly, we will cause economic hardship on the poor and trigger protests like the Yellow Vests movement in France,” Tomlinson writes. “If we don’t cut fast enough, we heat the planet and create a climate disaster.”

Solving that puzzle, Tudor responds, “is really, really hard.”

“The (energy) companies have to decide that this is their responsibi­lity,” he says, “and we’re still a long way really from the companies deciding that it’s their responsibi­lity.”

Indeed, the majors are continuing to go full bore on exploratio­n.

In our Drilling Down column, Chapa reports that ConocoPhil­lips is setting the table for a major round of drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale, requesting the Railroad Commission of Texas allow it to drill 17 new horizontal­s wells.

The 10th most active driller in Texas, ConocoPhil­lips filed for 215 drilling permits in 2019.

Welcome to Texas Inc.

 ?? Courtesy Photo / XRI ?? A water treatment and recycling system in the Permian Basin of West Texas and southeaste­rn New Mexico.
Courtesy Photo / XRI A water treatment and recycling system in the Permian Basin of West Texas and southeaste­rn New Mexico.

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