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An Evaluation of the Use of Hydraulic Fracturing Flowback Water for Thermoelectric Cooling in Texas

John Maxwell April 19, 2012 Energy, Technology & Policy Spring 2012 Word Count: 1495

Texas has been and will likely continue to be a leader in the development and practice of the water intensive hydraulic fracturing (fracing) natural gas recovery method (Rahm (2011) p.2974-2976). The average hydraulic fractured well in Texas requires about 3 million gallons per well (Galusky (2007) p.4). To perform fracing operations, water is pumped into the initial well along with other materials like sand and chemicals (Rahm (2011) p.2975). Though fracing is a small percentage of water use statewide, in local areas the use of groundwater in fracing can decrease water supply. About 10% of the water will come back up through the well bore (Jenkins (2012) p.14-16). This returned water is also known as flowback. Currently, about 90% of flowback is used for other fracing wells. Texas is also a growing state with the population projected to increase from about 25 million people in 2010 to 46 million people in 2060 (TWDB (2012) p.130). Texas is water constrained and with growing demands for water the probability is high for conflict over water. In addition to the municipal demand, thermoelectric power production requires large amounts of water cooling (Mielke et al (2010) p.29). Flowback could be one source of cooling water for thermoelectric plants. This paper will seek to explore which power plants are the best locations for a pilot program to test the feasibility of flowback water as well as considerations for policy options which could encourage a more permanent use of flowback in thermoelectric cooling. Though it may not be a large source of water, directing attention to developing solutions to address the water quantity problems should be a high priority for policymakers. Since water produced for use in the oil and gas industry are exempt in Texas from permits by the Texas Water Code ( 36.117 (b)(2)), there is less of an incentive to recycle because the drilling company can just pump new groundwater to complete the well. If not used for other projects, the water is injected into Class II disposal wells where it is stored to avoid harming the groundwater supply (RRC 2010). The injection of this water into Class II disposal wells effectively takes this water out of the system where it could be put to use in a productive use. The population growth impacts both municipal water demand as well as thermoelectric water demand. While most of the electrical capacity growth will likely be fulfilled by natural gas generation, existing coal and nuclear power plants are 8 or the 10 largest power plants in Texas (by net summer capacity) (EIA 2012). These large plants must explore additional water sources to ensure that service interruptions due to lack of cooling water are minimized. The state of Texas is the owner of surface water and can decide the allocation of water rights. For groundwater, Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCD) set the pumping limits in a given area (Texas Water Code Ch. 36). Since GCDs may limit groundwater and surface water rights may be difficult to obtain, thermoelectric power plants may see flowback as a component of cooling water (Nicot and Scanlon (2012) p. 3584). In a

severe drought, thermoelectric generators could be subjected to water source risks if either surface or groundwater allocation are changed to benefit municipal systems. At best, flowback water could a valuable input source of water for a few thermoelectric plants in Texas and at worst, could be a water hedge for these plants. The 10 largest power plants in Texas provide a data-set to assess the best possibility of the use of flowback for cooling water. 8 of these 10 power plants employ coal or nuclear thermoelectric technology.
Figure 1: Largest Thermoelectric Generation Sources, Texas 2010 Primary Energy Source 1 Coal Nuclear Coal Nuclear Coal Coal Coal Net Summer Capacity (MW)

Plant 1 W A Parish South Texas Project Martin Lake Comanche Peak Monticello Limestone Fayette Power Project

Cooling Type 2 Both Closed-loop Once-through Once-through Once-through Closed-loop Once-through

3,664 2,560 2,425 2,406 1,890 1,689 1,641

Welsh Coal 1,584 Closed-loop This figure indicates the largest thermoelectric plants and the fuel source. The figure also gives the cooling type for the plant once-through or closed-loop MW = Megawatt. Source: 1) EIA, State Electricity Profiles, Texas 2) 2010 Form EIA860

These are the two most water intensive thermoelectric generation types (Macknick et al. (2011) p.14-15). The State should first start with evaluating which plants would be optimal for a test of flowback and then develop more permanent policies to encourage the use of flowback. The main factor to evaluate which power plants are the best candidate for testing flowback is whether the plant is proximate to a shale gas play. Transport is likely the highest cost to reuse this flowback in the cooling process followed by treatment costs. Transportation options for the flowback to the power plant include through a pipeline or a truck. For the testing project, trucking the water would be necessary due to lack of infrastructure. Pipeline or fixed rail would be the best if flowback is used as a steady supply.

After evaluating the plants by the distance to counties that had shale gas production, 7 of the 8 plants are proximate to one of the three main shale plays in that they are located within a formation affected county or within 50 miles. This indicates a possibility for some or all of the selected plants to conduct a flowback feasibility test.

The three sites with the highest potential to test the acceptance of the flowback water are: Comanche Peak (CP), Martin Lake, and South Texas Project (STP). Both Comanche Peak and Martin Lake are located within a county which is located within the Barnett and Haynesville respectively. STP is proximate to an Eagle Ford county. The only plant that is not in a proximate footprint of any shale play is W A Parish. In the Barnett Shale, on average there were 4.4 wells drilled daily from 2005-2011. This amounts to on average ~13.312 million gallons of water used daily with ~1.3 million gallons of flowback produced daily (RRC 2011) (EIA 2012). As a once-through cooled plant CP consumes ~15.5 million gallons of water daily (Macknick et al. (2011) p.14-15). The development and proximity of the Barnett Shale to CP could produce ~9% of the daily water needs of CP.

For a closed-loop system like STP (which on average consumes nearly three times as much water as a closed-loop system) the flowback produced would need to be much higher to satisfy the demands for the plant (Macknick et al. (2011) p.14-15). The Eagle Ford shale is projected to have the greatest growth of water production, nearly 500 billion gallons of water used between 2010 and 2060 and the daily flowback would be ~2.7 million gallons which is 6% of the water needed by STP (Nicot and Scanlon (2012) p.3582). In water constrained future, this could be a small but significant source of cooling water. Scaling and corrosion could affect the operational integrity of the heat exchangers and other sensitive parts of the power plant system (NETL (2009) p.14). For use of flowback in nuclear plants, the scaling and mineral standards are likely to be higher than for coal plants due public concern over nuclear plant integrity. The small-scale testing of flowback will allow the advantages and disadvantages to be made known. Developing policy mechanism to make flowback a more permanently available source to thermoelectric plants could be one way to help Texas address freshwater concerns. Using a template of incentives from Gillette and Veil 2004, there are numerous policy levers the state could use to entice the shale gas producers and power plant operators to work together to use flowback. The types of incentives are discussed in order of the level government burden (lowest to highest): Reduced water costs to user o Adjust the costs for surface water use which the plants currently pay to make flowback water relatively more cost-effective. Direct grants o Provide grants to both power plant operators and shale gas producers to buy and sell the water. This may lead to behavior change and enhance power plant industrys public image in the face of freshwater constraints. Assured market o By guaranteeing a market exists, the transportation infrastructure may be built and shale gas producers may be more prudent with their produced water knowing there will be a market for it. Regulatory enforcements o Take away exempt status of the wells used in oil gas production unless the water is used in a secondary process for thermoelectric power generation.

At the federal level, 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact. (EPA 2012). Depending on the interpretation of the law, the employment of

flowback water could be seen as a best technology and is addressing environmental impacts of reduced water quantity. Total projected water use in the three shale plays from 2010-2060 totals around 910 billion gallons (Nicot and Scanlon (2012) p.3582). If 10% of the water is returned to the surface, 9.1 billion gallons could be available to be used by the electric power industry. Though on a per year basis, flowback available for thermoelectric cooling may be small, more water may flow back than anticipated (Jenkins (2011) p.14-15). Due to its proximate location to the well-developed Barnett Shale leading to lower transportation costs, the best location for a flowback test at the current time is Comanche Peak. Though flowback is not a very large source of water, this water was going to be injected into the ground and put out of productive use. Texas faces dire water shortages in the future and many solutions will need to be developed. The use of flowback in power plant cooling is a small, but serious attempt to address these concerns. With the correct state incentive policies, flowback water could provide at least a water hedge to thermoelectric plants. No proposed engineering solution should be turned away by policymakers as technology could help alleviate the very serious water quantity concerns.

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Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) (2012). Water For Texas - 2012 State Water Plan. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2010). Form EIA-860 Annual Electric Generator Report. Dept. of Energy. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2012). State Electricity Profiles - 2010 Texas. Dept. of Energy.