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Pilot Projects


House Bill 3516 of the 87th Texas Legislature directed the Railroad Commission to encourage the commercial recycling of liquid oil and gas wastes, including produced water.  Commission rules already authorize recycling of produced water when it is used in the wellbore of an oil and gas well during drilling, completion or workover activities, and other recycling of produced water has been authorized in very limited situations.  However, technological advances in water treatment and freshwater scarcity in parts of Texas has refocused attention on the potential to treat produced water and recycle it for beneficial purposes.  Therefore, the Commission staff has developed the Produced Water Beneficial Reuse Framework for Pilot Study Authorization ("Pilot Study Framework") for operators to obtain authorization for recycling treated produced water in limited pilot studies under carefully curated conditions.

What is a Pilot Study?

A pilot study is the focused and attentive execution of an activity that is performed on a limited scale to evaluate the efficacy of the activity and whether the activity can be successfully implemented on a larger scale, and to use the learnings of the study to inform various aspects of the activity, including health and safety, practical, logistical, and economic considerations. 

Pilot studies also provide significant value as a means of informing regulatory policy and requirements. That is, the results of pilot studies will be used to shape the future regulatory program in a manner that is protective of the RRC’s regulatory obligations as stated in statute, rule, and its mission. 

RRC Authority for a Pilot Study

The RRC’s general recycling authority can be found in Natural Resources Code §122 (relating to Treatment and Recycling for Beneficial Use of Fluid Oil and Gas Waste), which states the RRC shall adopt rules that encourage fluid oil and gas waste recycling for beneficial purposes. The RRC has promulgated rules in 16 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §3.8 (relating to Water Protection) that provide for three categories of recycling: prohibited, authorized, and permitted (16 TAC §3.8(d)(7)(A), (B), and (C), respectively). In addition, 16 TAC Chapter 4 contains rules for commercial recycling of oil and gas waste. The permitted recycling provisions in 16 TAC §3.8(d)(7)(C) provide the framework that RRC staff will employ to authorize pilot studies for the recycling of produced water: 

(C) Permitted recycling. 

(i) Treated fluid may be reused in any manner, other than the manner authorized by subparagraph (B) of this paragraph1, pursuant to a permit issued by the director on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the source of the fluids, the anticipated constituents of concern, the volume of fluids, the location, and the proposed reuse of the treated fluids. Fluid that meets the requirements of a permit issued under this clause is a recyclable product. 

Pilot Study Application

Who do I contact?

Any person who is seeking to conduct a pilot project concerning transporting, handling, storing, discharging, disposing, reclaiming or recycling oil and gas subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction must contact Technical Permitting in Austin. You must have a permit from the Commission. A pilot study may be a issued as a Letter of Authority from Technical Permitting in Austin to prove viability of a project prior to any future permit issuance. For more information continue to explore our website or click on Contacts for information on how to contact Environmental Permits staff.

Before You Get an Authorization to Conduct a Pilot Study

Prior to application for any permit or authorization, the applicant must file a Form P-5, Organization Report with the Commission. There will be a fee associated with the filing of the Form P-5. The applicant can contact the P-5 Department at 512-463-6772 for any questions regarding the Form P-5.

Pre-application meetings with RRC staff are required before submittal of a pilot study to the Commission. To request a meeting, please contact Technical Permitting in Austin via email at Enviro.Permits@rrc.texas.gov. Submit a short write up requesting a meeting alongside a draft of the project. For more information on Pilot Project requirements see below.

Framework Brief

In response to the potential for treated produced water to have a significant and positive impact on water resources in Texas, the Pilot Study Framework has been developed to give operators a guidance document to be able to attempt to serve Texas by our stewardship of natural resources and the environment, our concern for personal and community safety, and our support of enhanced development and economic vitality for the benefit of Texans. Below is a brief of some of the considerations for the Pilot Study Permits operators may seek to obtain.

  1. Obtain administrative documentation of the pilot study.
  2. Characterize the source fluids
  3. Describe the treatment technology.
  4. Include a schematic of the treatment process.
  5. Characterize the treated fluids and their consistency in quality (i.e., levels of constituents other than H2O).
  6. Identify the constituents of concern.
  7. Describe the reuse scenario.
  8. Describe the water treatment methodologies (i.e., modalities) and how they will directly affect the reuse scenario.
  9. List any process and/or treatment chemicals used at the facility that may be present in the water to be land applied. Include an estimate of the concentrations that may occur in the water to be land applied. Include material safety data sheets for each chemical.
  10. Provide a representative water quality analysis of the produced water and the treated produced water.
  11. Provide soil sampling in the application area to establish background soil chemistry to support viability of the present soil to support crop growth. Soil analysis should include sodium absorption ratio, soil pH, calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and magnesium (Mg).
  12. Provide an application rate in barrels (bbls) of the treated produced water that is irrigating the crop.
  13. Identify constraints associated with the proposed reuse activity.

Pre-application meetings with RRC staff are encouraged before submittal of a pilot study to the Commission. To request a meeting, please contact Technical Permitting in Austin via email at Enviro.Permits@rrc.texas.gov. Submit a short write-up requesting a meeting alongside a draft of the project. For more information on Pilot Project requirements see below.

Administrative Considerations:

  • RRC staff will limit the duration of pilot study permits to one year. In addition, the RRC authorization may include limits on the volume of produced water that is treated and the methods and means by which the treated fluid is reused.  
  • The duration of a pilot study may be extended, provided the activity is in good standing with its authorization requirements. An operator should request an extension 60 days prior to the expiration of the current authorization.
  • Pilot studies cannot be performed as commercial endeavors without considering the financial security requirements of TAC §3.78 and the Oil & gas Division’s notice requirements for commercial facility applications.
  • Notice to surrounding landowners for the produced water treatment and beneficial land application.
  • The treated water generated through a produced water pilot study must apply to the specific beneficial purpose(s) described in the authorization or be disposed of in accordance with RRC rules.
    • If reverse osmosis is used in the produced water treatment, where will the reject be disposed?
  • Authorization for a treated produced water pilot study will include reporting requirements that will include quarterly and final reports.
  • The application must include the following signed and dated certification statement: "I certify that I am authorized to make this application, that this application was prepared by me or under my supervision and direction, and that the data and facts stated herein are true, correct, and complete to the best of my knowledge." 
  • Provide a brief project description for the purpose of providing an introduction/orientation to the project details contained in subsequent parts of the application.