New initiative aims to use clean wastewater in dry states

By Chrissy Suttles

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — Statewide leaders in agriculture recently launched an initiative to clean oilfield wastewater for use in arid Western states, hoping to reduce the region's carbon footprint and improve the lives of ranchers and farmers.

"Just Add Water" would deliver new water sources to Western states such as New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Wyoming - oil producers that typically see 15 inches of rainfall or less per year.

Local agricultural company Encore Green, in conjunction with the national Beneficial Use Water Alliance, has been fine-tuning technology to repurpose long-evaporated remnants of water used in oil extraction since last year. Marvin Nash, who founded the company with his wife, is a former consultant for EOG Resources, one of the largest oil and gas firms in Wyoming.

Now, the Beneficial-Use Water Alliance, with help from the University of Wyoming's Center of Excellence for Produced Water Management, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Encore Green, wants to expand the effort.

Wyoming's oil and gas companies produced 3.6 billion barrels of water from 2015 to 2016. That water is typically disposed of by injecting it back into the ground or filling disposal ponds.

"Oil wells are generating three to six times the amount of byproduct water as they do crude oil," said Jeff Holder, executive director of the Beneficial-Use Water Alliance. "We typically inject that water back in the ground, effectively throwing it away."

The technology is called Conservation By-Design. It's a patent-pending method to batch, clean and reapply the water.

"If we repurpose the industrial byproduct water, we can introduce hundreds of millions of gallons a year onto the land," said Nash, general manager of Encore Green.

This could improve soil health, allowing farmers to grow more at a higher quality, he said. It could also diversify what types of crops are available.

Another anticipated benefit of "Just Add Water" is greater carbon sequestration, which scientists believe can mitigate the effects of climate change.

Carbon sequestration is a process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in the roots of vegetation and soil.

"By adding water to the soil and growing vegetation, carbon is removed from the air," said Darlene Nash, owner of Encore Green. "The more vegetation produced, the more carbon that is removed from the air."

When water is applied to the land, the amount of sequestered carbon can be calculated and offered as a credit to those wishing to reduce their carbon footprint.

Those credits could keep the sequestration functioning, fund conservation projects and be an additional source of revenue to landowners.

The Conservation By-Design technology has garnered new support recently. In October, Encore Green and the Beneficial-Use Water Alliance held a successful trial, watering a local rancher's grazing grass.