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NETL’s PARETO Wins 2022 Meritorious Award for Engineering Innovation
PARETO is the Produced Water Optimization Initative

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) produced water optimization program, PARETO, developed by NETL and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), was named a winner in Hart Energy’s 2022 Special Meritorious Awards for Engineering Innovation (MEAs) for its water management capabilities.

PARETO, a free and open-source software tool, is an optimization framework for onshore produced water management that is meant to empower practitioners, researchers and policymakers to identify cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways to manage, treat and beneficially reuse, when possible, produced water from oil and gas operations.

Given user-provided water production, demand and transportation data, PARETO can help determine where and how to build out produced water infrastructure while simultaneously improving the coordination of water deliveries over time. The framework is innately designed to help organizations recognize opportunities for minimizing fresh and brackish water consumption by maximizing produced water reuse in active oil and gas development areas. PARETO is Python-based and is publicly available via GitHub.

Large oil and gas operators spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on transporting, reusing or disposing water associated with oil and gas development activities, which significantly affects their operating expenses. Yet, few energy companies have reported to be leveraging optimization technology for produced water management in practice.

To address these challenges, in 2021, DOE launched a three-year, $5 million produced water optimization initiative called “Project PARETO” specifically for produced water management and beneficial reuse. NETL and LBNL collaborated with natural gas producer Olympus Energy to develop the software. Olympus Energy, a privately owned company that specializes in upstream development of natural gas resources, is active in the core Marcellus, Utica and Upper Devonian formations across southwestern Pennsylvania.

“This award speaks volumes about the good PARETO can accomplish in energy-producing regions across the United States,” said NETL’s Markus Drouven, Ph.D., technical director for Project PARETO. “PARETO is an example of what’s possible when DOE’s national labs and private industry work together.”

Ultimately, PARETO is expected to become an optimization-based decision-support application that can provide users with specific and actionable recommendations on: (1) where to build water pipelines and how to size them, (2) how produced water deliveries should be coordinated, (3) which treatment technologies to select, where to place them and how to size the respective plants, (4) which beneficial reuse options to consider (for example, agricultural reuse or the extraction of critical minerals), and (5) how to distribute treated produced water and/or concentrated brine to potential end users (farmers or mining companies).

From an environmental perspective, PARETO is expected to help organizations (1) improve the utilization of existing produced water infrastructure (including pipelines and storage facilities), (2) facilitate increased piping of produced water instead of trucking, (3) reduce the injection of produced water into the subsurface, (4) decrease freshwater consumption for oil and gas development activities, (5) identify beneficial reuse options within and outside the oil and gas industry and (6) explore opportunities to extract critical minerals, such as lithium, from produced water.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.