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eNews July 2020

NMSU and NM WRRI Researchers Develop Framework for a Hybrid Modeling Analysis of Produced Water Impacts in New Mexico

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual research focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP), a state-funded project with investigators from NMSU, UNM, NMT, and NM WRRI. This month we are featuring research being performed by New Mexico State University Research Associate Professor Saeed Langarudi, NM WRRI Research Scientist Robert Sabie, and NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald to develop a conceptual framework for a hybrid, multi-method dynamic simulation analysis of the impact of produced water on the water budgets and overall viability of local communities in New Mexico.

As a potential alternative water source, produced water presents unique opportunities and challenges that need to be understood. More specifically, it is important to understand how produced water relates to regional water budgets and the future viability of New Mexico’s local communities. Nevertheless, produced water is a multifaceted phenomenon with complex hydrologic, social, economic, and environmental implications. To better understand such implications, the research project entitled, Development of a multi-method dynamic spatial simulation model: exploring opportunities for produced water reuse seeks to develop sophisticated analytical and computational tools that take such complexities into account.

Computational and systems sciences such as system dynamics, as well as agent-based and geospatial modeling, have advantages and disadvantages that make them suitable for specific problems. Yet, combining these methods in order to harness the full potential of each method, thus addressing each method’s shortcomings, is an area to explore. System dynamics helps to identify key feedback loops that drive the dynamics of a system. However, it does not take the heterogeneity of a system into account. For example, the geographical distribution of oil wells, and how each produced water volume and quality at each well change over time, would not be effectively addressed in a system dynamics study. On the other hand, agent-based and geospatial modeling methods address the heterogeneity of a problem but obscure the feedback links between components of a system.

The problem of produced water and its impact on viability of local communities is complex at different levels of analysis while there are significant interactions between these levels. The distribution (geospatial modeling) of oil and water wells changes over time depending on the decisions (agent-based modeling) of the oil producers, while decisions of the oil producers depend on the components of the system (e.g. water, wealth, treatment technology, etc.). Changes in the accumulation of produced water, and ultimately the movement of produced water, depend on the geographical distribution of the wells (system dynamics). Here, we have a very complex feedback system not only at the system level but also within and between different levels of analysis. One example of what the model could examine is the availability of treated produced water for reuse in the oil and gas industry – where is the water, where does the water need to go, what is the volume of available, and what is the water quality?

A goal of this project is to ultimately produce a white paper and peer-reviewed journal article which reports the state of the art in multi-method modeling approaches in hydrosocial studies as well as the conceptual framework based on the literature, interviews with subject matter experts, focus groups, and group model building sessions. This framework will set the stage for future work in which the research team will build a functional multi-method model.