Texas: From Shale Boom to Water Revolution

03/16/2015 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2015

Texas is famous the world over for two things on a massive scale: oil and droughts. Now the slick but dry state is becoming famous for water: that precious element that both resolves the drought problem and makes it possible to pump more oil out of the ground.

Not only does Texas have the Permian Basin and the Eagle Ford shale, but it also has the Gulf of Mexico and its massive oil deposits and endless gallons of seawater that are now economically treatable thanks to next-generation water-processing technology.

As NASA predicts a decades-long "mega drought" later this century, next-generation water-processing technology coming from within the oil industry promises not only to help solve Texas' drought problem by accessing and desalinating brackish and slightly salty water sources deep under the dry Texan surface but to go one step further by desalinating ocean water and turning dirty water into potable water.

While conventional desalination technologies only recover about 35 percent of fresh water from a gallon of seawater, new Dutch technology brought to Texas by a local company recovers approximately 97 percent of the fresh water at an economical cost. At the same time, the new technology uses no chemicals, rendering it quite possibly the "greenest" water-processing technology in operation today.

This ushers in the ability to add new water sources to our current ecological system by desalinating brackish and ocean water that previously was not considered in the amount of fresh water available for human consumption.

A Water Revolution Takes Root

Texas barely survived a seven-year drought in the 1950s, when 100,000 farms and ranches were lost, and a recent study by a NASA scientist says there is a good chance Texas may see something much worse than this as global warming leads to long-term drying in the West. This time it could be a mega-drought -- the worst in 1,000 years -- that could last for decades.

For the oil and gas industry, water-starved Texas is a highly competitive playing field, and the competition between oil companies and other heavy users of water is intense. The shale boom and the hydraulic fracturing revolution have exponentially raised the stakes in this competition as demand for water has soared. Texas is where the fracking revolution began, and now it is where the water revolution is taking root.

Producers are surrounded in a pincher movement, both by critics of how much water they use and by internal pressure to ensure enough supplies of water to keep drilling and fracking.

The answer to Texas' drought problem, concerns about future supplies of potable water, and oil industry's fears of fracking drying up is next-generation technology that hits out at the water dilemma on three fronts simultaneously.

Salttech DyVaR Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) water-processing technology was developed in the Netherlands by Salttech and was launched first by Texas-based STW Resources in July last year in Mentone, Texas, in the Permian Basin. The Salttech desalination system is now providing the residents of Mentone with more drinking water than they could have ever hoped for.

This is a win-win situation for all water end users, and environmentally, there are no snags: It's a green process all the way, with absolutely no chemicals or filtration involved. And not only is the new technology providing all of Mentone's drinking water, but its entire operations are run on solar energy.

The Salttech systems can be manufactured to process as many gallons of water per day as is needed, according to STW Resources Holding Corp, which has the exclusive license for this technology not only in the U.S. but in Canada, Mexico and Central America.

For the oil industry, this is a breakthrough technology that could save it untold sums of money by reclaiming the massive volumes of precious water used in drilling and fracking and also processing produced water that accompanies oil and gas production.

For municipalities and local governments -- particularly in Texas during this time of unprecedented drought -- it means future water security by accessing new sources that were previously unusable just below the Earth's surface.

For the ecosystem, it means creative conservation.

Stanley Weiner, CEO of STW Resources, said in a January 2015 press release:

With the shortage of fresh water worldwide, our technology can help in many areas to relieve the shortages. We can also assist in any ocean desalination reverse operations to exclude the need to dispose of the concentrated brine reject into local waterways and oceans thus preventing any possible detrimental effects to the highly sensitive balance of the ecosystem. This Salttech DyVaR is a major technological breakthrough since we can now economically process high chloride water into potable water and not have any detrimental effects on our environment.

We've all heard of desalination technology before, but the sticking point -- as it always is with new technology -- is cost. Desalination has never been economical on a commercial scale before. Until now, the price of desalinated water projects has hovered around $8 a barrel, but the Dutch version comes in at around $1.50 to $2 per barrel, or approximately $1,100 to $1,350 per acre-foot of water.

Additionally, whereas your typical desalination plant returns only about 35 percent of the water, Saltech technology can return 97 percent -- and this is a key factor in the economics and environmentally positive attributes of the technology.

Mentone was just the small beginning. Another Permian Basin project is planning much bigger things.

In the Capitan Reef Aquifer, in the city of Fort Stockton, Texas, STW is now drilling its first production well and planning to drill several additional wells into this and other brackish aquifers about 2,000 to 4,500 feet under the surface. The goal is to start selling water in the second quarter of this year.

This is nothing like the fracking revolution and the shale boom. This is a revolution of much greater proportions -- and again, it's playing out in Texas.

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