This month’s column was written in collaboration with Paul Choules, president of the Texas Desalination Association. Shared with the permission of GWI.
Written by Amanda Brock. 

There are great opportunities in Texas for companies that are able to utilise their desal technologies in multiple applications. But this requires the ability to understand and navigate the complexities of the Texas market-place, and take into consideration the huge footprint of the state itself. Even with the slowdown in the O&G sector, in 2015 Texas remained the top destination for one-way moving truck rentals. Houston, San Antonio and Austin ranked as three of the top five destinations nationally, and as many as 345 people still move to Texas every day.

Understanding the connection between desal and Texas requires an understanding of the upstream and downstream O&G sector. Texas has 29 operating refineries processing approximately 5.8 million barrels of crude oil per day. Houston, soon to be the third-largest city in the US, accounts for over 40% of the nation’s base petrochemical capacity on its own. Plants in Freeport, Beaumont, Corpus Christi and other Texas cities and towns make the state the largest petrochemical market in the US.

Watching the slowdown in the upstream O&G market – including the unconventionals market – is concerning, but there continues to be a significant need for desal technologies relating to the treatment of water used and reused for frac’ing and produced water.

The Texas Water Development Board reports more than 100 desalina-tion plants installed in Texas. Most are small or intermittent-type facilities, but there are three large facilities in-state: the Kay Bailey Hutchison plant in El Paso, which can produce up to 104,000m3/d of fresh water, the Southmost Region-al Water Authority Desalination Plant (28,400m3/d) for south Texas, and a new brackish water desal plant currently under construction in San Antonio. Phase 1 of the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) desalination plant is set to be completed this year, and will produce 10 million gallons (37,850m3) of fresh water daily.
All desalination facilities in Texas currently use brackish groundwater. There were no seawater plants in operation in Texas as of October 2016, although several are planned, and at least one is under construction at a petrochemical facility near Corpus Christi. But that is about to change.

Cities and towns throughout Texas such as Galveston, Corpus Christi, Free-port, Baytown, Conroe, Katy and Odessa are all looking at desal options as part of their overall water portfolios. Katy, a suburb of Houston, recently contracted a 2MGD (7,570m3/d) brackish water desal plant to help with groundwater subsidence by taking water from a deep brackish water aquifer. Other cities and towns that have an industrial base, such as Corpus Christi and Freeport, are looking at ways to reduce the overall cost to install desal facilities by having industrial partners participate in the projects. Desal technologies are also being used for direct and indirect potable water reuse projects.

The challenge for companies is in appreciating the complex market. For the municipal sector, understanding 1) the regulatory and permitting requirements; 2) who to deal with at all levels – local, state and federal – and 3) the contracting mechanisms used to execute projects add to the complexity of developing desal projects in Texas. The current go-to method for contracting municipal projects in Texas is DBB, although other methods such as CM@R, DB and PPPs are being considered.

The interest level continues to be high among our elected officials, includ-ing Texas Governor Greg Abbott. He and other politicians recently travelled to Israel to visit desal facilities and witness the positive effects of desal in Israel. There are many reasons why the Texas market is attractive to desal-related companies, and many companies have been successful here. The common denominators in these successes were patience, a diverse technical portfolio, the capability to operate in the industrial and municipal markets, and the ability to build relationships.