Water management

Report Jan. 5, 2021

In this article

Water management

Freshwater management 

Overview

ExxonMobil manages water resources with care. For all projects, our Water Management Standard requires a risk assessment that evaluates local water resources and potential mitigation actions at the project development stage.

Based on the latest version of the World Resources Institute Aqueduct tool, we estimate that approximately 40 percent of our major operating sites are in areas with potential water scarcity. To manage these risks, we pursue site-specific management strategies that include water conservation technologies, use of alternative water sources, recycling of municipal and industrial wastewater, and collection of rainwater.

Water consumption is primarily associated with hydraulic fracturing in our upstream onshore operations. Hydraulic fracturing is the process of using water pressure to create small cracks or fissures in rocks deep underground so oil or natural gas can flow to the well. Water use differs by basin due to geological and reservoir characteristics, as well as optimization of drilling and completion designs. 

Where possible, ExxonMobil continues to increase its reuse of produced water in the Permian basin for hydraulic fracturing to reduce freshwater consumption. We also continually seek opportunities for improvements. We are involved in a research consortium with New Mexico State University to develop advanced treatment technologies for produced water desalination. We are also part of an active research collaboration with the Groundwater Protection Council and the Environmental Defense Fund to better understand the human health and environmental risks associated with use of produced water outside the oilfield and to inform public policy on beneficial reuse.

2019 performance and initiatives

In 2019, the net freshwater consumption at ExxonMobil operations totaled 290 million cubic meters, a decrease of about 6 percent from the 2018 consumption of 310 million cubic meters. Our total freshwater consumption includes global use by refineries, chemical plants, and oil and natural gas production, as well as onshore shale resource development in the United States. In 2019, we launched a project in the Baytown petrochemical complex in collaboration with the City of Houston to utilize lower quality water while preserving high-quality freshwater resources in the region. This project could help divert 1.2 million cubic meters of high-quality freshwater into a reservoir for conservation and human consumption.

Global freshwater consumption*

ExxonMobil's global freshwater consumption in 2019 was 290 million cubic meters. This represents a 20 million cubic meter decrease compared to our 2018 global freshwater consumption 
*We report freshwater intensity alongside consumption data in our performance data. Data includes ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy’s data beginning in 2011.

Wastewater management 

Overview

Oil and natural gas production, refining and chemical operations generate wastewater that requires treatment before discharge or disposal. Treatment methodologies range from removal of suspended hydrocarbons and solids from produced water to biological treatment systems for refinery wastewater. Produced water, a byproduct of oil and natural gas production operations, is typically managed onshore by injection into deep underground reservoirs. For offshore production facilities, ExxonMobil reinjects produced water into an associated reservoir when feasible, or we treat and discharge it into the marine environment in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements.

Our Water Management Standard outlines the environmental performance expectations of our upstream projects. The standard establishes the planning-and-design basis for reducing potential impacts to surface, ground, estuarine and marine water. Similarly in the downstream business, our Effluent Standard sets acceptable project requirements when a country has no standards or less-stringent standards than our own specifications. We work to design facilities in a manner that controls the quality of discharged water. 

2019 performance and initiatives 

In 2017, ExxonMobil’s Antwerp Refinery in the Netherlands completed upgrades to the biological treatment unit at its wastewater treatment plant, ahead of the commissioning of its new coker unit. This included adding facilities to remove nitrate, as an excess of nitrate can lead to a surplus of algae and deplete oxygen levels, which can impact local aquatic populations. As a result of these upgrades, in 2019, the nitrate concentration in the wastewater from the refinery to the Scheldt River was at a historic low. The refinery has seen a 65 percent decrease in nitrates since the facilities opened in 2017. 

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Mitigating emissions in Company operations

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Environment

ExxonMobil’s diverse portfolio of projects requires us to work in remote and sensitive environments, including deepwater and areas of high biodiversity. Our environmental management approach is guided by an understanding of the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts of our operations and a commitment to develop, maintain and operate projects sustainably, using appropriate standards that enable us to ‘Protect Tomorrow. Today.’

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