spwm fracingbakkenFracing the Bakken Formation in North Dakota Photo by Joshua DoubekLynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, sees water disposal as a costly and crucial issue for Bakken Shale natural-gas producers. He thinks there will be 40,000 active wells by 2030. However, he warns water problems might hinder that growth. "The emerging issue I see about that time is water re-use or water disposal," Helms said. "We've found that there are localized parts of our disposal zone that have limits, and the oil-gas industry is pushing up against those limits."

The state is mapping underground producing areas with North Dakota State University’s Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) developing a Web-based model to better monitor Bakken’s water, he said.

North Dakota is examining a mile-deep disposal area. He has questioned whether waste water disposal would have to go 1,200 feet deeper into a different formation. “We haven't found any technology that allows us to recycle water here."

Helms isn’t anticipating a technological breakthrough. "The whole area of water production, disposal, etc., is industry's number one operating cost. So, they need to be focused on that very heavily, and there hasn't been much focus," he said. "We haven't seen the kind of investment and technology development in that area that we have seen in drilling and stimulation."