GUEST VIEW: Water plays vital role for all of us

By Max Wright

The Permian Basin Water In Energy Conference (PBWIEC) returns February 22 – 24, 2022. It promises another far-reaching and educational discussion of the role water plays in oil and gas production and the challenges associated with it. COVID-19 took away a year, but we are back and better than ever!

Water touches us all; we use it every day, and it’s essential for human life. Water is also an integral part of oil and gas production, which produces the energy we need and use every day. The use of water in the energy industry is highly visible because it’s used in what most of us consider very large quantities in a very short time, whereas other heavy users of water, primarily agriculture (a very, very large consumer of fresh water) spread their use out over longer periods. We see an irrigation pivot and don’t think too much about how many gallons of water are being sprayed on a green crop, but we see a frac rig set up on a well and many of us think in terms of millions of barrels being consumed in the process.

We all compete for freshwater resources. An ongoing area of essential research in the oil industry is how to use less desirable water to produce oil and gas so that freshwater resources are not consumed. The use of less desirable water involves multiple methods of recycling, cleaning, desalinizing and otherwise making that water available for use in energy production. The PBWIEC brings the latest in scientific and industry thinking to those who deal with water in the energy sector. Because water is such an important topic, leaders in the energy industry have been willing to share their insights gained from experience and research into how water—especially water other than fresh water—can be efficiently and safely used in oil and gas production.

The extraction of oil and gas from both vertical and horizontal wells usually involves the production of very large volumes of salt water—the trapped remnants of ancient oceans. We must know what to do with the water that is released when hydrocarbons are taken out of the rocks many thousands of feet beneath us. An average of four barrels of water are produced for every barrel of oil that comes out of the ground. Much of this is water that cannot currently be cleaned, recycled, or otherwise used in energy production. The PBWIEC addresses disposal issues with as much attention as it devotes to the use of water in oil and gas production. Disposal issues are very much in the public eye, particularly with the increased incidence of seismic events across many producing regions, including here in the Permian Basin. These events are as concerning to operators as they are to the public, and speakers at this year’s conference will be providing the latest industry knowledge regarding seismic events, including discussion of both engineering and legal concerns.

It has been my privilege to serve on the board of directors for the PBWIEC since it was formed in 2017. We recognized the need for a conference focused on water in energy where ideas could be exchanged, and the energy and water industries could share research and technological advances in a non-commercial setting; the PBWIEC is not a trade show. In 2018, we hoped to have 100-125 attendees at our first conference, but at the end of first day we had 450 attendees and were turning away registrants because we were out of space. Our past conferences have attracted speakers from industry, government and law in Texas, New Mexico and across the globe. The 2022 PBWIEC will be our first post-COVID in-person gathering, and we are planning for our most significant event yet.

The PBWIEC is produced in conjunction with The University of Texas Permian Basin. Funds generated by the conference have provided scholarships for students at UTPB. Recognizing the importance of this conference to the Permian and within the energy industry, the University is assuming full ownership of the PBWIEC and housing it at the Shepperd Leadership Institute. University leadership including President Sandra Woodley, Dean of the College of Engineering George Nnanna, and Dean of the College of Business Steve Beach, have been indispensable partners in organizing the PBWIEC every year. We are grateful for UTPB’s support, and we look forward to working with them in planning future conferences.

Water touches us all. If you want to learn more about water in the energy industry, please join us for the fourth Permian Basin Water In Energy Conference at the Midland County Horseshoe February 22-24, 2022. Register at! Sponsorships are always welcome; if interested, please check out the sponsorship tab on the website.

Max E. Wright is an attorney at Shafer, Davis, O’Leary & Stoker, P.C.