Produced water could prove valuable resource to drought-stricken ranchers

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Contact:  Erica Carr  405-525-3556 x106erica.carr@iogcc.state.ok.us

Produced water could prove valuable resource to drought-stricken ranchers

Water is an invaluable resource, but for ranchers like Brett Emmons it’s also a matter of survival.

Emmons is among the many ranchers in Montana that have battled a 20-year drought threatening to close down local ranching operations. A self-described rancher/farmer, he struggles to grow his own grain and hay to feed his cattle.

However, help could be just around the corner for Emmons and ranchers and landowners across the country, thanks to a valuable by-product of America’s oil and natural gas resources – water.

The volume of water produced from domestic oil and natural gas wells greatly surpasses the amount of oil or gas produced. This traditionally had been problematic for an industry that struggled to find cost-effective water management solutions. However, new technologies and water treatment programs have changed this scenario.

“What has historically been viewed as a waste that was disposed of in a cost-efficient and environmentally sound manner can now be efficiently managed and used as a valuable resource,” said Dan Arthur, a partner of Tulsa, Okla., based ALL Consulting.

While some of this “produced water” is too salty for use, large quantities may be utilized as an environmentally safe source of agricultural irrigation, power generation, aquifer storage, enhanced oil recovery, surface discharge and even water for wildlife.

The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) and ALL Consulting conducted a national research effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory, focusing on the management of produced water from onshore exploration and production operations in the United States.

Researchers evaluated oil and gas operations throughout the country to observe how the industry has dealt innovatively with water management challenges. They released their results in a Guidebook that catalogues produced water quality data and water processing techniques operators are utilizing across the country.

The Guidebook also discusses regulatory challenges associated with produced water.

“It is important that regulatory impediments to the appropriate beneficial use of produced water be removed,” said Thomas Richmond, administrator for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation and a participant in the study. “Water is too important a resource to allow outdated rules to prevent its use or make it unnecessarily costly to use.”

Currently, each of the oil and gas producing states remains responsible for regulating produced water in accordance with its specific geographic and geologic conditions.

“The Guidebook will help state and federal regulators develop produced water regulations that are most protective of the environment and that encourage beneficial uses appropriate to the region, without disrupting domestic oil and natural gas production,” said Arthur.

For Emmons the resource is a win-win. "Produced water is part of a solution to keep ranching alive in this area," he said. "At the rate it's going now, the small guy is going to go away and not far behind them will be the communities they live in."

To find out more about produced water and its beneficial uses, log on to www.iogcc.state.ok.us.


The IOGCC, representing the governors of 30 member and seven associate states, promotes the conservation and efficient recovery of the nation’s oil and natural gas resources while protecting health, safety and the environment. Established by the charter member states’ governors in 1935, and approved by Congress, it is the oldest, largest and most effective interstate compact in the nation.