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September Luncheon Meeting
September Luncheon Meeting

Tue, Sep 29


Bush Convention Center

September Luncheon Meeting

"Sourcing and characterizing geochemical changes from unpermitted produced water dumping, Permian Basin, USA" by Dr. Mark Engle

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Time & Location

Sep 29, 2020, 11:50 PM

Bush Convention Center, 105 N Main St, Midland, TX 79701, USA


About The Event

Abstract: Produced waters are the most voluminous waste stream of hydrocarbon production, with the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas producing more than 107 barrels/day (1.7x109 L/day). Despite calls for better produced water management in this semi-arid region, unpermitted produced waters dumping remains a serious problem. This study focuses on the chemical and isotopic composition of 41 surface (0-5 cm) and core (0-30 cm) soil samples from 5 dump sites in the Mescalero sand dunes, southeast New Mexico. Surface samples identified as those impacted by produced water dumps (n=18) exhibit higher water content (p<0.01) and saturated electrical conductivity (up to 5.8% and 23.2 mS/cm) than control samples (n=15). Nearly all water extractable ions were enriched in dump surface samples relative to control samples, with major ions enriched by factors of 13 to 4,500 (averages). Isometric logratios of Br, Cl, and Na in water leachates from the dump samples overlap those of nearby produced waters from tight oil (e.g., Bone Spring) and conventional gas wells, which are of paleoseawater origin. 87Sr/86Sr composition of water leachates of surface control samples (0.70850–0.70894) correspond to that of local caliche, indicating Sr originated from local dust and precipitation. 87Sr/86Sr of surface dump samples are universally higher (0.70919–0.70942) than the control samples, and can be modeled by addition of ~1-200 ml of produced water from the Bone Spring, Strawn, or Morrow reservoirs to a kg of average control sample soil. Local production data from within the study area show that roughly 80% of produced water generated during the period of dumping came from horizontal Bone Spring wells. Data from core samples show that native Sr was completely flushed out to depths >30 cm at one site but not the other, suggesting site-specific controls on sub-surface flow of waste fluids. Surface dump samples also show a ~2-fold enrichment in 226Ra and 228Ra relative to control samples, but are well below activities from mass balance mixing calculations with produced waters suggesting Ra loss prior to or after dumping occurred. Results from this initial investigation demonstrate that unpermitted dumping of produced water degrades environmental quality and can be traced using isotopic tools.

Bio: Mark Engle is a Professor in the Dept. of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he focuses on the geochemistry and movement of fluids in sedimentary basins and at the air-surface interface. He has published nearly 100 papers, reports, and book chapters on a number of topics including the origin of produced waters from major oil gas and tight oil plays.  He previously served as the chief of the U.S. Geological Survey Energy Resources Program’s produced waters project, for more than a decade.  He holds a Ph.D. in Hydrogeology from the University of Nevada, Reno and a B.S. with an emphasis in chemistry and earth sciences from the Evergreen State College.


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