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The Role of Produced Water Treatment in Shale Plays

Lisa Henthorne and Buddy Boysen review the role of produced water treatment in shale plays in this Oilfield Technology Magazine article.

Shifting Focus

One of the biggest shifts in the U.S. oil and gas industry over the last decade is the combined use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce hydrocarbons from shale rock. As this segment of the unconventional industry has progressed, the cost of production from shale operations has steadily decreased each year. Associated water costs have inversely increased over this same time period. The increase in costs is partially due to use of larger and larger volumes of water during well development as lateral lengths, staging and proppant load has increased. Not only does this additional water cost more to source (from primarily aquifers or surface sources), but flowback volumes requiring disposal have also increased.

Recycling and reuse of flowback and produced water seems an obvious mitigation measure to address rising water costs. This approach can reduce water sourcing costs for subsequent well fracturing operations and wastewater disposal costs. Until recently, water recycling has only been adopted in areas where disposal options are limited or the high cost of transportation to disposal offsets the costs of treatment. A lack of common standards for treatment has also hindered the adoption of water recycling, often requiring customized treatment to address each Operator’s unique specification. The tremendous variability in the physical and chemical characteristics of flowback and produced water quality has also impacted treatment process standardization.

A change in perspective is now underway regarding the value of water in the oilfield, where views are changing from a minimal treatment/disposal mentality to one of a scarce resource that is the lifeblood of shale oil and gas production. The change in perspective is visible 1) from the rise of midstream water companies; 2) in the form of new and proposed legislation and regulation; 3) the advent of progressive water sourcing strategies such as purchase of municipal wastewater, where available; and 4) as the uptick in reported barrels of recycled water.

Several criteria are critical to widespread adoption of water recycling:

  • Infrastructure to cost-effectively transport untreated and treated water from well sites to treatment facilities and subsequent drill sites;
  • Common treatment standards that can enable standardization;
  • Simple and automated treatment operations;
  • Treatment processes that are dependable and cost-effective.

This article discusses the changing dynamics of water usage in the shale industry and the challenges associated with treatment, specifically focusing on the industry treatment objectives for water recycling and the chemistry and required technology to meet those objectives.

Produced Water/Flowback Volumes are Increasing

To gain an appreciation for water volumes in current shale operations, long-lateral wells in the Permian Basin produce over 250,000 metric tons (1.5 million barrels) of formation water in addition to approximately 75,000 metric tons (470,000 barrels) of source water flowback, assuming a water-to-oil ratio of 3:1 and oil production of 500,000 barrels. Approximately 450 wells are currently drilled per month in the Permian. The large number of new wells has observers anticipating a tsunami of water impacting the basin in coming years. Figure 1, developed by B3, portrays expected water production and usage through 2028 in the Permian Basin. According to IHS Markit, the Permian accounts for approximately 35% of current U.S. hydrofracturing operations, and while basins vary in their water-to-oil ratio, a reasonable assumption across the U.S. is generation of 31 billion barrels of water associated with annual rate of drilling at the current levels (450 wells drilled per month in the Permian representing 35% of the U.S. water production).

From Figure 1 below, it is clear that water recycling for fracturing operations alone cannot solve the overall excess water dilemma, that is, on average four times more water is produced from a well than required for a subsequent well fracturing operation.

Figure 1 Production Use Comparison. 300dpi

Figure 1 – Permian Water Production and Use Comparison. B3 publication, February 2019.

Treatment Options

Produced water treatment should reflect the intended use of the treated water. In other words, produced water should be treated to the minimum water quality level that is needed for the application (fit-for-purpose) or to safely meet the regulatory requirement. This approach optimizes economics of water management for the Operator. While produced water treatment is challenged by wide ranges of raw water quality, flowback from shale applications is further challenged with an inordinate variation in quality that changes as a function of the schedule in production operation. For example, early flowback usually contains high levels of friction reducing agents, which are often polyacrylamides, and suspended solids.

The general contaminants in produced water include:

  • Dispersed oil/hydrocarbons (oil and grease)
  • Dissolved hydrocarbons
  • Suspended solids
  • Dissolved solids/salts/metals
  • Other dissolved gases such as hydrogen sulfide, H2S
  • Bacterial contaminants

For recycling operations, removal of oil and grease, metals, total suspended solids (TSS), H2S and bacteria are the primary treatment objectives. Chemicals are generally used to expedite the removal of these contaminants, followed by a sedimentation or solids separation step as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Simple Schematic Of Pw Treatment For Shale Ops 300dpi

Figure 2. Simple schematic of produced water treatment for recycling in shale operations.

Operators have varying specifications for recycle water quality in shale operations. Some Operators only require a bacterial kill, while others may expect removal of the bulk of the metals, TSS and all of the H2S. These variations in desired treated water quality largely impact the Chemical Treatment step of the process, which is summarized in Figure 3.

Figure 3 Schematic Of General Chem Treatment Process For Recycling In Shale Ops 300dpi

Figure 3. Schematic of general Chemical Treatment process for recycling in shale operations.

It’s important to understand the role of each of these family of chemicals (oxidants, coagulants and flocculants) to determine whether they’re required to achieve plant-specific treated water quality goals:

  • Oxidant – added to oxidize and precipitate metals and hydrogen sulfide. Most oxidants also provide biocidal protection.
  • Coagulant – added to destabilize colloidal material to build larger particles (floc) that can be more easily separated from the water.
  • Flocculant – added to agglomerate coagulated solids and further improve particle characteristics for separation.

Oxidants are the most widely used of these chemicals and a range of options of oxidants are available. Table 1 describes the most common oxidants used in water recycling treatment in shale operations with a corresponding comparative analysis.

Table 1. Comparison of Chemical Oxidant Cost and Performance

Table 1 Comparison Of Chemical Oxidant Cost And Performance 300dpi

Oxidants are typically used to convert dissolved metals into particulate form for separation. Oxidants can also provide a disinfectant residual to the treated water, thereby extending their biocidal characteristics for bacterial kill. When performing more advanced forms of water reuse, the oxidants can be used to convert organic carbon compounds into more biologically assimilable compounds.

Some oxidants such as hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide and ozone can be generated onsite to reduce chemical transportation costs. However, the savings can be negated by other factors including higher price component chemicals like sodium chlorite, complex generation equipment for ozone or more limited storage life of sodium hypochlorite.

Generic or proprietary coagulants and flocculants are used in water recycling if lower total suspended solids/turbidity is desired. Coagulants are often used to destabilize colloidal materials including suspended organics and oily metal solids, which can be problematic for injection. Prehydrolyzed aluminum coagulants like polyaluminum chloride and aluminum chlorohydrate are typically used.

The level of TSS in produced water and flowback in shale operations varies greatly from a lower range of 30 mg/L up to over 1,000 mg/L. Iron levels also vary significantly: Woodford and the DJ Basin commonly are below 30 mg/L, whereas Wolfcamp and the Haynesville are upwards of 100 and 150 mg/L, respectively. Targeting lower TSS levels in recycled water used for fracturing operations improves proppant pack permeability. This is not intuitive since proppant is inherently composed of solids, i.e. sand. The difference in size between the very fine and often colloidal particulate materials in untreated produced water and flowback and the proppant materials is a problem. Often poorly treated produced water contains significant populations of particle size below 3 micron, which can accumulate in the interstitial space between the larger proppant particles and reduce the proppant pack permeability as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4 Proppant Comparison 300dpi

Figure 4. Proppant Pack Permeability – Produced Water Recycling/Reuse (SPE 165085)

Also note that if the produced water is not intended for recycling but will be pumped downhole in disposal wells, there are limitations on the injection pressure, which may also govern treatment. For instance, the Delaware Basin injection pressure is limited to 0.2 psi/ft whereas the Midland Basin is limited to 0.5 psi/ft. Both these limitations dictate reduction of TSS prior to injection. If poorly treated or untreated, the fine materials will plug the receiving aquifer in a similar manner. In these applications, the colloidal material can be especially problematic if the colloidal material is composed of insoluble materials like silica or materials that tend to gel during well acidification.

Following chemical treatment, an effective separation step is critical to achieving the desired recycling water quality. This step is one that is often short-changed for the sake of economics, even though cost-effective separation processes are readily available. Use of an aboveground storage tank (AST) or weir-equipped gravity tank instead of a dissolved air flotation (DAF) unit can reduce capital and operating costs but has a significant impact on removal of small particles. TSS levels are generally higher for AST or weir tanks by a difference of as much as 50% in comparison to DAF units. Generally, the required water quality will dictate what level of treatment is applied, but the impact of not treating may not be seen immediately and is often not fully considered during preliminary process development.

Economics is Key

When an Operator evaluates their water management options, the general analysis considers cost of sourcing, transportation and disposal versus recycling, including transportation, treatment, and storage costs. We’ve noted that the level of treatment varies considerably based on the physical and chemical characteristics of the feedwater quality, as well as the recycling water quality specification. To complicate matters further, sourcing, transportation, disposal, and storage costs vary significantly by region and even within a basin, depending on distance to the disposal wells. Table 2 summarizes the range of costs broken down by each area of costs on a dollar per barrel basis.

Table 2. Sourcing, Recycling and Disposal Cost Breakdown

Table 2 Sourcing, Recycling And Disposal Cost Breakdown 300dpi


Water management in the shale plays has reinforced the value of water to our industry, and we can demonstrate our stewardship of this resource through cost-effective water recycling, as well as treatment for discharge, where practical.

Although water management in the shale plays presents Operators with a myriad of decisions, and a supply of economical options with known costs for long-term success are greatly needed, the availability of cost-competitive water recycling services is increasing. Each day in active basins such as the Permian, infrastructure development and midstream players equipped with facilities to address this need are helping to close the gap on the long-term water treatment needs of the Energy Industry.

Though water recycling cannot fully eliminate produced water disposal, recycling provides a partial solution that is attainable now at a cost structure that is competitive to disposal in most cases. Cost-effective advanced treatment technologies, for discharge to the environment, that address projected future excess produced water volumes are currently available for produced waters with salinities under 55,000 mg/L. Higher salinity waters are more limited in discharge quality treatment options that are economical, but innovations are occurring in evaporative, membrane distillation and other techniques that may soon make these technologies cost-effective.

Lisa Henthorne Produced Water Web 4

Lisa Henthorne Elected President of Produced Water Society

Water Standard and its produced water subsidiary are pleased to announce Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Lisa Henthorne, has been elected President of the Produced Water Society (PWS).

PWS is a collection of oil and gas professionals with the common mission to study and improve the management of produced water from offshore and onshore wells. The organization provides opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing through membership, conferences, workshops and partner events.

Here at Water Standard, we are extremely proud of Lisa’s incredible achievement. It is another shining example of the continued development of our biggest asset, our team. Not only does our company promote the advancement of water treatment technologies but we feel it is equally important to build a team strong enough to use these advancements to make a difference. We will not slow down until we help the global energy industry uncover the true value of water and find the best solution to treat it for reuse or ultimately, safe discharge back into the water cycle.

Please read the official press release below:

Lisa Henthorne, Chief Technology Officer at Water Standard and Monarch Separators, Elected as President of the Produced Water Society

For Immediate Release

Houston, TX | June 26, 2019

Water Standard and its produced water subsidiary, Monarch Separators, are pleased to announce the election of Ms. Lisa Henthorne, Sr. Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, to the prestigious position of President of the Produced Water Society (PWS).

PWS was founded almost 30 years ago and consists of a dedicated society of oil and gas professionals who share produced water management knowledge and solutions and collaborate to solve produced water challenges in both conventional and unconventional plays. PWS and Water Standard / Monarch Separators share the same vision of improving the management and disposal of produced water to create a more sustainable future for our earth’s water supply.

Ms. Henthorne’s extensive work developing innovative produced water reuse and safe discharge solutions, along with her diverse personal, professional, and educational experience, adds an important global understanding and management approach to facilitate the growth of PWS and to raise awareness of the value of water to the oil and gas industry. Her history in water treatment and technology is multifaceted. Prior to being elected President of PWS, Ms. Henthorne served on their board for 4 years, contributing to the growth in technical programs and member services.  In addition, she currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of H2O Innovation and acted as President of the International Desalination Association from 2007-2009 and sat on their Board of Directors for 16 years. She holds four U.S. patents and multiple foreign patents in water treatment technology.

Ms. Henthorne’s role at Water Standard / Monarch Separators will be enriched by her involvement in PWS as the companies’ belief in knowledge sharing and collaboration has already brought about some exciting advancements in produced / flowback water treatment solutions. Ms. Henthorne states, “I’m very excited to be part of the PWS team this year as we endeavor to further the exchange of ideas and technical knowledge regarding produced water management, to facilitate conversations on the increasing value of water to our industry, and to support the produced water community in these very exciting times.”

About Water Standard and Monarch Separators

Water Standard and its produced water subsidiary Monarch Separators have an extremely passionate and diverse team dedicated to safely and economically changing the energy industry’s use of water. The company specializes in shale, produced and flowback water treatment, enhanced / improved oil recovery, and advanced water treatment with membranes. With additional service and manufacturing capabilities, the company is the global leader in providing the best, most cost-effective water treatment solution for the energy industry to utilize water and waste water in ways never thought possible.

About the Produced Water Society

The Produced Water Society is a collection of oil and gas professionals with the common mission to improve the management and disposition of produced water. Through the discussion of best practices and the presentation of advanced solutions to dynamic obstacles, PWS fosters an environment where water professionals learn from one another in an open setting and where the entire industry thrives as a result.

Membrane Deaeration Presentation

Buddy Boysen Wows the Crowd at AMTA/SCMA Workshop

In a powerful presentation at the AMTA/SCMA Joint Technology Transfer Workshop in Oklahoma City, Buddy Boysen, Engineering and Technology Director, unveiled how gas permeable membranes can cost-effectively remove oxygen from water, consequently replacing conventional deaeration strippers in industrial applications. He discussed the strong technical and commercial justification for membrane deaeration in broader applications such as offshore waterflooding for oil and gas operations by sharing findings from a long-term seawater membrane deaeration pilot test performed by Water Standard and the subsequent installations in oil and gas facilities. If you’d like to see Buddy’s presentation, please reach out to

Produced Water Seminar

Water Standard & Monarch Separators Plan a Strong Presence at Produced Water Society Seminar

Water Standard and its produced water subsidiary, Monarch Separators plan to bring their extensive experience and recent test findings to the Produced Water Society Seminar in Sugarland, TX on February 5-7, 2019. The companies are at the forefront of supplying cost-effective separation technologies to combat the flood of produced and flowback water that operators are dealing with. Their vision is to bring the produced water treatment industry together and educate operators on the powerful solutions available to reuse their water in operations and even treat it for safe surface discharge. Not only does this approach benefit the operator, it’s a huge step in environmental consciousness. Lisa Henthorne and Robert “Buddy” Boysen will each facilitate a break out session of the PWS Workshop Training held on Tuesday, Feb 5. This comprehensive overview of water management in the U.S. upstream onshore sector will provide real-world training that analyzes and explains field equipment in terms of water location, volumes, chemistry, and engineering principals. Buddy will focus on Jar Testing while Lisa furthers the discussion to include costing. It’s a must-attend workshop for anyone hoping to improve their upstream marketability. As the conference continues, Buddy will expand his Jar Testing insight is Session 2 – Reuse & Disposal. His presentation will be Wednesday at 1:00 pm and he will delve deeper into recent findings from Water Standard and Monarch Separators’ extensive testing in the Permian, DJ and Powder River basins. Buddy will focus on the chemical pretreatment scheme and variability in chemical pretreatment performance that was observed among the different test locations. His knowledge and experiences in produced water testing will be invaluable! Last but not least, on Thursday, at 1:00 pm, Valentina Llano from Monarch Separators, will chair Session 6 – Thermal Issues in Produced Water. The session will explore produced water thermal distillation and reducing produced water costs. We hope to see you at the conference!

Produced water testing Monarch Mobile Lab

Produced Water Testing With Our Fast-Acting and Environmentally-Friendly Flocculant

As our produced water subsidiary, Monarch Separators, visits various basins and refineries in the US to test our H2O Spectrum® Platform’s fast-acting, environmentally-friendly flocculant, our clients are experiencing this “wow” moment for themselves. Every project has a unique make up of produced and/or flowback water but don’t worry, we can help. Whether your project is a brownfield or greenfield with produced water, flowback water, or even a blend of challenging wastewater, let us speed up your water treatment process and keep your operations flowing! Contact us today at or info@monarchseparators.comClick water image below to see flocculant in action!

Monarch Separators’ fast-acting flocculant attacking refinery wastewater.

Monarch Separators’ mobile lab heading to the Permian Basin once again.
Cost effective produced water treatment

Unlocking the Key to Cost Effective Produced and Flowback Water Treatment

Water Standard and its produced water subsidiary, Monarch Separators, are strengthening their focus on the unconventional oil and gas space with a recent upgrade to their H2O Spectrum® platform technology. Now, this innovative water treatment platform provides operators a wide spectrum of affordable produced and flowback water treatment options from disposal, to recycle and reuse, or treatment for safe surface discharge. As environmental concerns over water usage and availability continue and the volumes of produced water grow, Water Standard has responded by adding a low-cost alginate flocculant, coupled with Monarch Separators’ unique separation technologies to advance the H2O Spectrum® platform. The platform offers higher performance while remaining cost effective, which Water Standard understands is a key driver in the unconventional market. Water Standard and Monarch Separators’ H2O Spectrum Platform Demonstration Unit

Lisa Henthorne, Chief Technology Officer at Water Standard says, “With over 3 million barrels of water being produced every day in the Permian basin alone, we know it’s getting tough to manage the volumes, especially if operators are reliant on disposal alone. We’ve performed extensive testing of our H2O Spectrum® platform throughout the U.S., and are currently active in the Permian, Denver-Julesburg, Delaware and Powder River basins. The results speak for themselves with recycle and reuse options of under 7¢ per barrel (all-in chemical costs) and safe surface discharge solutions for under $1 per barrel (all-in equipment and chemical costs). These lower costs allow operators the flexibility to reuse the water within their frac operations or opt to discharge the water safely back into the environment for other uses.”

Performance from testing a range of challenging inlet water quality with turbidity up to 700 NTU have resulted in treated water for reuse and recycle with turbidity of <2-4 NTU, oil in water down to less than 2 mg/L and iron removal to less than 1 mg/L. For more extensive surface discharge treatment, the H2O Spectrum® platform boasts 100% BTEX and TOC removal along with 99+% salinity reduction and the successful accomplishment of passing the Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) tests required for safe surface discharge.

Produced and flowback water before and after treatment Blend of Produced and Flowback Water after Treatment

“The success of our testing has resulted in collaborative partnerships with large E&P operators, midstream companies and various water treatment service providers to reduce salt water disposal and the subsequent loss of freshwater resources. Reusing the water for operations or treating it to levels that allow the water to be returned to the water cycle is at the heart of what we do,” added Lisa Henthorne.

Induced Gas Flotation System

Successful Completion of Twin Induced Gas Flotation (IGF) Systems

Water Standard, through its produced water subsidiary, Monarch Separators has successfully designed, manufactured and delivered another set of Induced Gas Flotation Systems for our long time client in Canada. Each system is designed to remove oil and solids from 150,000 bpd of produced water

PROJECT OVERVIEW Phase 1 of Canadian Oil Sands Expansion Project Central Processing Facility (CPF) designed to collect and process fluids from Well Pads to produce 40,000 bpd of Bitumen WATER STANDARD / MONARCH SEPARATORS SCOPE: Design, engineering, fabrication, assembly, inspection and testing and long-term preservation for two IGF packages

Water management

Lisa Henthorne, Water Standard Chief Technology Officer, Provides Input for Hart Energy's Water Management Techbook 2018

The April Issue of Hart Energy’s Water Management Techbook is now available online. Contributing editor, Jennifer Pallanich, attempts to share some evolving best practices in water management by enlisting Water Standard’s Chief Technology Officer, Lisa Henthorne, to share her water treatment expertise as well as insight from the 45 years of practical experience from our produced water subsidiary, Monarch Separators. The article focuses on the oil and gas industry’s rapid shift to reusing and recycling produced water due to decreasing water supply, tightening regulations and environmental consciousness. Ms. Henthorne, along with other industry experts, share insight on the benefits and challenges associated with disposal, recycle/reuse, and safe discharge of produced and flowback water. If you are facing water treatment challenges from injection water to produced/flowback water, reach out via our contact page to see how we can help. Water Standard and Monarch Separators’ combined experience in water analysis, fabrication and operations management can help you turn your water problems into water solutions. See pages 38-42 for the full article, “Evolving Best Practices in Water Management” in the Water Management Techbook by clicking here.

Membrane water treatment package

Water Standard Successfully Delivers Membrane Water Treatment Package for First of its Kind Midstream Application

Water Standard is pleased to announce the successful delivery of a membrane water treatment package to a midstream energy company, as a groundbreaking component of their gas quality upgrade project within their LPG export terminal.This export terminal is designed to load LPG carriers for delivery to the world market to meet rising international demand for American LPG supply. The membrane water treatment package, which has not been used in this type of application before, is critical for delivering gas of appropriate quality to the terminal’s primary customer.Consistent with its solutions-driven approach to industry challenges, Water Standard supported its client from piloting and conceptualization to scale-up and construction by evaluating several different water sources, water treatment technologies, and process configurations. The result was the most optimal treatment solution for this novel midstream application.Ultimately, the compact membrane system was built to produce between 50-150 gpm of water from a wide range of feed water qualities and varying temperatures. Its unique configuration minimizes water demand from the facility by achieving a recovery rate of 80%.Lisa Henthorne, Chief Technology Officer of Water Standard states, “We strive for the best solutions for the unique and often very challenging water treatment requirements our clients face. In this case, using a compact, skid mounted design to retrofit within the facility, and the ability to treat any source water at a high recovery rate, we maximized flexibility and minimized OPEX for our client.The equipment was manufactured in Water Standard’s 22,000 square foot, ASME certified, Monarch Separators fabrication facility located in Houston, Texas.Given the criticality of the water treatment package, the project was executed on a fast-track and is scheduled for startup in the first quarter of 2018.

Amanda Brock Inducted

Amanda Brock Inducted into the Greater Houston Women's Hall of Fame

Water Standard is proud to announce that CEO, Amanda Brock, has been inducted into the Greater Houston Women’s Hall of Fame. This prestigious title is for leaders who have contributed significantly to the advancement of women and improved the quality of life for future generations of Houstonians. Amanda was honored at the Hall of Fame Gala held in the beautiful Royal Sonesta in Houston. The gala was a glamorous event followed by an unexpected, magical dusting of snow! We congratulate Amanda for this well-deserved recognition as she is a great role model for so many and a woman of true character.

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