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Oil industry faces mounting wastewater challenge


Disposing of oil’s biggest byproduct is going to be a challenge for Wyoming in coming years. That was the takeaway from a panel discussion Wednesday about water use and energy development.

Produced water, as it’s known in the industry, is the wastewater that comes out of a well along with oil and gas. It’s typically very salty, and can contain harmful metals and radioactive elements. As oil and gas production increases, dealing with the huge volumes of produced water is getting more difficult. Kevin Frederick is the administrator of water quality for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. He says it may not be economical to re-inject produced water into deep formations in the future.

“The number of re-injection wells, for instance, that might be necessary to actually handle that volume of water may be somewhat prohibitive,” Frederick says.

The alternative to re-injection is treatment, either for reuse or discharge. Right now, that’s considered cost-prohibitive in many cases, but Frederick says that may change in the future. He says Wyoming and the oil and gas industry have started discussions about new ways to deal with the problem of produced water.

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