Industrial Use

Fact Sheet - Industrial Use

Intro to Produced Water
Technology Descriptions
Fed & State Regulations
Technology Identification

Many parts of the western United States are characterized by limited supplies of potable water. In light of the increasing demands, the costs of identifying and treating new water supplies continue to climb. Yet, many of these arid regions are home to oil and gas production, yielding significant amounts of produced water. In areas where traditional surface and groundwater resources are scarce, produced water could become a significant replacement resource in many industrial processes as long as the quality of the produced water remains adequate. The degree of prior treatment required depends on the quality of the produced water and the intended use. Produced water is already being used in various industrial processes. It may be suitable for others. Various industrial uses are discussed in this fact sheet.

  Photo of tank truck.Tank truck used in west Texas oil field.  
  Photo of drilling mud.Drilling mud.
  Source: J. Veil, Argonne Natl. Lab.

Oil Field Use
Many natural gas wells must be hydraulically fractured to enhance production operations. Each "frac job" requires hundreds of thousands of bbl of water.

In areas where natural gas fields are expanding rapidly (e.g., the Barnett Shale in Texas and the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas), local water supplies may not be adequate to meet the demand for frac water. Produced water or "flow-back water" - the water returning from the formation following a frac job - can be treated and reused for new frac jobs.

Peacock (2002) describes a program in New Mexico. Here, the produced water is treated to remove hydrogen sulfide. It is then used in drilling operations. This beneficial reuse of produced water saves more than 4 million bbl per year of local groundwater. 

Cooling Water and Other Power Production Uses 

  Photo of cooling towers.Cooling towers; Source: J. Veil, Argonne National Lab.  

Another potential use of produced water is cooling water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (Hutson et al. 2004), the U.S. power industry withdrew about 136 billion gallons per day (more than 3 billion bbl/d) of fresh water for power plant cooling. Since conventional surface and ground water sources are no longer sufficient to meet increasing power plant needs in many parts of the country, produced water represents a large-volume source of water that could potentially serve as makeup water for a power plant.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy funded a group of researchers led by the Electric Power Research Institute to evaluate the feasibility of using coal bed methane (CBM) produced water to meet up to 25% of the cooling water needs at the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico. The plant requires nearly 500,000 bbl/d of makeup water to replace water lost to evaporation or blowdown. The researchers prepared a series of reports, which are all available at The economics of using produced water at that specific plant do not appear favorable. Therefore, the utility is not moving forward with implementation.

  Photo of water treatment system. 
Water treatment system at a cogeneration plant; Source: J. Veil, Argonne National Lab.

In at least one case, produced water is used to supply water for steam generation. After softening, about 360,000 bbl/d of produced water from a ChevronTexaco facility in central California are sent to a cogeneration plant where they serve as a source of boiler feed water (Brost 2002).

Dust Control 
In most oil fields, the lease roads are unpaved and can create substantial dust. Some oil and gas regulatory agencies allow operators to spray produced water on dirt roads to control the dust. This practice is generally controlled so that produced water is not applied beyond the road boundaries or within buffer zones around stream crossings and near buildings.

CBM produced water may be generated in areas with active surface coal mining operations. Surface mining, processing, and hauling are inherently dusty activities. Produced water can be used for dust suppression at those locations. Murphree (2002) outlines plans to use CBM produced water for dust suppression at the North Antelope/Rochelle Complex (NA/RC) in Campbell County, Wyoming, the world's largest coal mine. IOGCC and ALL (2006) describe several coal mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin that use CBM produced water.

Fire Control 
Fires often break out during the driest portions of the year. Areas experiencing drought conditions are particularly vulnerable. In many cases, only limited surface and ground water resources are available for firefighting. Although application of large volumes of saline produced water can adversely impact soils, this is far less devastating than a large fire. ALL (2003) reports that firefighters near Durango, Colorado, used CBM produced water impoundments as sources of water to fill air tankers (i.e., helicopters spraying water onto fires) during the summer of 2002.

The list of potential industrial uses is very long. As the cost of treating produced water decreases, and the availability of incremental fresh water supplies diminishes over time, other industries may turn to produced water as a water source.

ALL, 2003, "Handbook on Coal Bed Methane Produced Water: Management and Beneficial Use Alternatives," prepared by ALL Consulting for the Ground Water Protection Research Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management, July. Available at [external site].

Hutson, S.S., N.L. Barber, J.F. Kenny, K.S. Linsey, D.S. Lumia, and M.A. Maupin, 2004, "Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000," U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1268, 46 pp. Available at [PDF-external site].

IOGCC and ALL, 2006, "A Guide to Practical Management of Produced Water from Onshore Oil and Gas Operations in the United States," prepared for U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and ALL Consulting, Oct. Available at [external site].

Murphree, P.A., 2002, "Utilization of Water Produced from Coal Bed Methane Operations at the North Antelope/Rochelle Complex, Campbell County, Wyoming," presented at the 2002 Ground Water Protection Council Produced Water Conference, Colorado Springs, CO, Oct. 16-17. Available at [PDF-external site].

Peacock, P., 2002, "Beneficial Use of Produced Water in the Indian Basin Field: Eddy County, NM," presented at the 2002 Ground Water Protection Council Produced Water Conference, Colorado Springs, CO, Oct. 16-17. Available at [PDF-external site].

Veil, J.A., M.G. Puder, D. Elcock, and R.J. Redweik, Jr., 2004, "A White Paper Describing Produced Water from Production of Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Coal Bed Methane," prepared by Argonne National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, Jan. Available at [external site].