Energy Excursions

Where Do We Use Water in the Petroleum Industry?

In the petroleum industry, water plays a significant role in drilling and production procedures for oil and gas. Without access to water, we would not be able to drill and extract fossil fuels that our world revolves around for energy. Let’s take a look at the various purposes of water use within the oil and gas industry, before moving on to hydraulic fracturing, produced water, and water management. 

Water Consumption in Oil and Gas 

Water is vital for both hydrocarbon extraction and energy production. We use this valuable natural resource for many purposes throughout the lifetime of a well. And, we convert the hydrocarbons to useful forms of energy (e.g., transportation fuel, electricity) once produced at the surface. Here we will look at the various ways water is consumed in the petroleum industry, including: 

  • Drilling and Production: 
    • Water is mixed with drilling mud and used to cool the drill bit, which is vulnerable to excess heat during drilling. 
    • Water is used to clean the interior of the wellbore such as removing excess drilling mud/fluids or other objects that impair flow of hydrocarbons.1American Geosciences Institute. (2019, June 18). Water in the Oil and Gas Industry. American Geosciences Institute. https://www.americangeosciences.org/geoscience-currents/water-oil-and-gas-industry.
    • In hydraulic fracturing, water is injected into the underlying formation to create fractures, allowing hydrocarbon flow to the wellbore. 
    • Water can be used to maintain pressure in the reservoir to increase production.
  • Water For Refining and Generating Electricity: 
    • Water is used for refining crude oil. Refining crude oil is a chemical process in which the crude oil is transformed into useful products, such as the gasoline we put in our cars or petrochemicals we use to make plastics.2Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, May 27). Petroleum refining processes. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_refining_processes.
    • Natural gas plants burn the gas to create heat and generate electricity. However, water is used for cooling within these natural gas plants. Water is also used for other procedures within the plant such as cleaning residuals of the burned gas. 

Where Does This Water Come From? 

Water used in these operations is often extracted mostly from surface water sources, such as nearby lakes, rivers, and streams, or from underlying aquifers. However, if water is unavailable locally, it must be transported. Water used for oil and gas production must be transported to the wellsite. To create products, water may need to be transported to a refinery. Transportation typically involves trucks or pipelines.3American Geosciences Institute. (2019, June 18). Water in the Oil and Gas Industry. American Geosciences Institute. https://www.americangeosciences.org/geoscience-currents/water-oil-and-gas-industry.

Image Credits: Pix One/Shutterstock.com

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