Our regional water management strategy is designed to reduce the impacts of our water use on stakeholders and the relevant watersheds, and to minimize risks associated with produced water disposal, supply sourcing and business interruption.
We use the water scarcity evaluation tool, Aqueduct, to align our water management with physical water stress levels and availability in the areas where we operate. According to Aqueduct, physical water stress measures the ratio of total annual water withdrawals to total available annual renewable supply, accounting for upstream consumption
We evaluate our water needs and target opportunities to conserve fresh water. Water use is tracked by quantity, quality (fresh, brackish, recycled) and source (groundwater, surface). Produced water disposition is tracked by volume, transport and disposition method. All produced water in our U.S. onshore operations is either recycled for use in the oilfield or disposed of via salt water disposal wells. We do not discharge treated, produced water to surface. Tracking water use and disposal is mandated by our Environmental Management Standard and the Regulatory Compliance element of our Responsible Operations Management System (ROMS).
- ᵃ Improved source water testing in the Permian as operations have matured post-acquisition has allowed for better classification of water quality.
- ᵃ 2020 fresh water intensity fell due to significantly lower completion activities across our operations and increased recycling in the Bakken.
To facilitate sustainable water sourcing opportunities in our U.S. resource plays, we have a manager of sustainable operations with leadership accountability. Our ROMS system requires assets to conduct a risk assessment addressing local and regional sourcing constraints, capacity limitations, operational needs and disposal and infrastructure alternatives. While we seek alternative sources to freshwater, such as brackish or grey water, opportunities are very limited in areas such as Oklahoma. Our ability to economically recycle produced water is highly dependent on proximity between supply and demand, local constraints/regulations and continuity of acreage position. While we strive to use more produced water, we must balance the benefits of reuse with the higher spill risk associated with handling larger volumes of produced water.
We provide industry leadership in trade groups that share lessons learned and best practices for sustainable water management. For example, Marathon Oil is a founding member of the Energy Water Initiative, a group that focuses on sustainable water management practices in the U.S. In addition, we’re a participant in the New Mexico Produced Water Research consortium and in the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI)-led Department of Energy desalination grant project. These projects study environmental risks and technological developments associated with discharging or beneficially using produced water outside the oilfield. Through our involvement, Marathon Oil seeks to mitigate environmental risks of produced water, while providing additional management options to deep well disposal.
Water Consumption and Sourcing
The vast majority of our water consumption, typically more than 95%, is used in completions during hydraulic fracturing. Water consumption in our U.S. resource plays was 51 million barrels in 2020, compared to 98 million barrels in 2019. This reduction is largely due to a lower level of completion activity in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated impact on commodity prices. Of this amount, approximately 3 million barrels were recycled. Recycled water increased from approximately 3% in 2019 to 6% in 2020.
In our Eagle Ford asset, productive saline aquifers and company-owned supply infrastructure are available. They allow us to make significant use of water resources that are otherwise of no or limited use, so we can conserve high-quality water resources and reduce the risk of constraints on our operational water use. We’ve made continued improvements in the Bakken overcoming the technical challenges of using high-salinity produced water in our completions operations. Bakken recycling drove year-on-year improvements with very limited activity in the Permian and Oklahoma.
Competitively Advantaged Multi-Basin Model
Three primary drivers of alternative water usage are: the availability of alternative water sources, including commercial solutions; the ability of our assets to develop contiguous acreage; and the regulatory environment, including local governments’ flexibility in transporting and storing produced, brackish and alternative water. As our assets mature and the subsurface qualities are better understood, we’re able to make data-driven decisions about alternative water source viability and infrastructure.
Marathon Oil has significantly increased the percentage of produced water we move via pipeline (i.e. low-carbon transportation). In 2020, approximately 60% of produced water in our U.S. operations was disposed of using pipelines, eliminating approximately 435,000 truckloads and associated emissions of 28,000 MT of CO2, and also improving road safety. We achieved this through strategic use of midstream water providers and internal development of produced water-handling infrastructure in our Eagle Ford and Bakken assets.
Water Usage by Resource Play
In 2020, more than 85% of our source water in the Eagle Ford was brackish, with limited or no agricultural or livestock applications and unsuitable for human consumption. We developed water-sourcing infrastructure that mainly taps available brackish groundwater, leading to a long-term sustainable system with minimal risk of volume curtailment.
Marathon Oil has developed various solutions to increase recycled water use in the Permian. Pad-to-pad transfer of minimally treated water has proven to be economically advantageous while mitigating curtailment risk, reducing hauling and supplemental water needs. This solution is highly dependent upon proximity of well completions. Use of treated produced water supplied by midstream water vendors is utilized when available and has allowed us to minimize internally managed water infrastructure, saving capital and reducing surface impact of operations. Low-carbon transport of produced water for reuse or disposal increased from 66% in 2019 to 89% in 2020.
In Oklahoma, we’ve established commercial midstream partnerships to transport produced water to disposal via pipeline where economically feasible. Produced water transported using low-carbon transport methods increased from 51% in 2019 to 52% in 2020.
Produced water in the Bakken region typically has a high saline content. Efforts to use produced water have resulted in a significant increase in the amount of recycled water use in the Bakken, an increase of almost 500% since 2018. This increase in recycled produced water has decreased fresh water demand, truck transport distances and costs.
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