The Texas Railroad Commission on September 28 published amendments to its rules for hydraulic fracturing operations that would allow drillers to recycle water and flowback fluids on-site without needing to obtain a permit.  The proposed rules also detail guidelines and permitting requirements for off-site commercial recyclers of flowback fluids.  The Railroad Commission is receiving comments on its proposed rules, with a deadline to comment of noon Central time on Monday, October 29, 2012.  Comments can be made electronically here.

As in most states, the Railroad Commission’s existing rules do not contemplate recycling of flowback fluids at all.  Typically these fluids, as well as produced water, are stored in tanks or containment ponds pending disposal in deep injection wells.  Recent improvements in recycling technologies are beginning to allow drillers to clean these fluids for use in another round of hydraulic fracturing, replacing fresh water.  Because a typical fractured well can use as much as several million gallons of water, allowing reuse and recycling without pre-approval both encourages conservation and can help drillers reduce longer-term operating costs (both in acquiring fresh water and hauling large amounts of fluids for disposal). 

Because the recycling technology is new, it is not yet common and can still be cost-prohibitive in the short term for smaller operators.  But as its cost decreases, flowback recycling may become more economically viable for small and mid-size operators than it is currently.  This blog will monitor the progress of Texas’s proposed rules, as well as whether states in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays follow the Railroad Commission’s approach to encouraging flowback recycling.