The Current Challenges and Future Potential of the Water Midstream Industry

saltwater disposal well

About Michael Neese, Sr. VP of Engineering and Technical at WaterBridge Resources LLC

Michael Neese, VP of WaterBridge

Mr. Neese has more than three decades of industry expertise, having held leadership and management positions across multiple disciplines, water midstream, water treatment, groundwater remediation, environmental, engineering and large utilities. He also has an extensive background in the rehabilitation of disposal wells, solid waste disposal, development and protection of water resources, water laws, and emerging treatment technologies. Mr. Neese is a highly effective communicator who builds sustainable teams and mentors others to attain peak performance. He has also served three terms as an appointed Vice President of a two-county groundwater district, multiple civic leadership roles and has brokered four public-private partnerships. 

Mr. Neese holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agricultural Engineering from Texas Tech University.


1. As a subject matter expert in the Water Midstream Industry, what are the opportunities and challenges you foresee in the growing client demand for produced water recycling services in the US?

Answer: Recycling is the action or process of converting waste into reusable material and the produced water business in the United States is reusing the water but not truly (by definition) recycling the water. Our industry is taking a product that can be reused for fracking or drilling with minimal treatment and this reuse is allowing us to minimize the demands we formerly placed on freshwater resources. By delaying the final disposal of the water; we are saving costs, protecting natural resources, and reducing the overall water demand in a full life cycle of a development.

The challenges facing this industry are building good collection systems to gather the volumes of produced water needed to meet the demands of the producers, lowering the costs of treating the waters to the producers, and seeking technologies to actually recycle the produced waters, when they are no longer needed, into a by-product marketable to other industries.

Another key challenge to the reuse of produced water in our industry is the increased levels of H2S we are seeing in our waters. The removal of H2S from water is not all that difficult but it does impact the costs of your disposal/reuse systems and presents a life safety issue. Dependent upon the levels of H2S in your waters, your current treatment technologies and your current saltwater disposal wells may not be equipped to deal with the issues created by high volumes of H2S.

2. What are your thoughts on the recycling capabilities to existing water sourcing for beneficial reuse opportunities in the future?

Answer: Current industry recycling technologies available to our industry are technologies that have been used for many years in other industries and work very well for treating waters for reuse in the fracking/drilling industry. The current capabilities of our industry are not challenged by the needs of our customers. We can blend different waters from multiple sources, drop most of the suspended solids, remove the hydrocarbons, improve turbidity, and send waters to our customers with a high oxidation reduction potential. Our challenges come in safely routing the sources to a central location to minimize the treatment costs to our customers and sending those treated waters back to a location for reuse. With that said, our industry is only one big step away from taking waters that have been out of the hydrologic cycle for millions of years and putting them back into the cycle for beneficial reuse for multiple industries, municipalities, improving the environment, and that step is the cost effective removal of chlorides.

3. As VP of Engineering, Supply and Technology, what new technologies can you tell us about that you have been looking into for your new developments?

Answer: I embrace being challenged to improve existing technologies and repurpose existing technologies to serve a new purpose and doing that work while meeting very strict self-imposed cost controls. I mentor my peers by telling them there is really nothing new under the sun in terms of treatment technology, we are required to live within the laws of physics and chemistry to find technologies to meet our demands in a profitable way.

In looking at current industry benchmarks, I have been working to develop new saltwater disposal battery designs that incorporate induced gas flotation and dissolved air flotation principles to improve the water quality going to the SWD or into a pond for storage. Effective filtration and reducing the manpower to change filter media is a goal that every operator or treatment company should be addressing. 

I have been evaluating and piloting, electro oxidation and electrocoagulation technologies for the removal of H2S and basic water treatment of produced waters.  Both technologies have been around for a long time and to the credit of the technology owners, efficiencies in operation are lowering the cost of treatment to price points that are competitive. 

One of my key goals is looking into alternative disposal methods that can return water back to the hydrologic cycle. I’ve built a large-scale enhanced evaporation system that increased natural evaporation by almost 50x. In addition to enhanced evaporation, I’ve evaluated other technologies that evaporate water through heat that are becoming more competitive from a pricing standpoint.

Some of my current technologies being evaluated for large scale industrial use are cryogenic distillation for chloride removal, enhanced dissolved air flotation through nanobubbles, acoustophoresis and capturing energy developed through cavitation for removal of chlorides.

4. Being the people person that you are, can you tell me how you have overcome bias in your hiring approach in order to build such a diverse and inclusive team?

Answer: "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go." This quote, which is sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde, is one of the foundations upon which I have built teams across multiple industries. I look for team members that I can support, that I can develop, and that can support each other. This servant leadership mentality that was enhanced during the late 1970s and was renamed Total Quality Management in the late 1980s is still valid in overcoming any bias in the team building process. 

I’ve built teams that were governed by up to eight separate unions, teams that were purpose built for specific projects and teams that were built focused on the needs of the customers that were being served. I evaluate my potential teams based upon character more than their application or resume. I always lay out the specifics of any tasks, how our performance will be evaluated on those tasks, and then ask for input on how our team should approach those tasks. My teams have been recognized and awarded as outstanding by the Department of Energy, the City of Houston, Pioneer Natural Resources, the City of Bastrop and Bastrop County.

In summary, I ask my teams to not become defined by their job position and individual function but to be recognized by how they support their team and how their team produces the results that makes us all a success. 

Key Takeaways:

Takeaway #1: The water midstream industry is close to being able to take waters that have been out of the hydrologic cycle for millions of years and put them back into the cycle for reuse.

Takeaway #2: Water Recycling efforts help minimize the demand for freshwater resources and positively impact the industry/environment.

Takeaway #3: Trade off between new technologies versus cost controls.

As the water midstream industry continues to grow, companies are facing unique staffing challenges. Progressive has been partnering with many of the top water midstream operators and private equity firms in the U.S. by providing talent with proven saltwater disposal and true produced water experience. Whether you're a business looking to hire or a professional seeking work in the water midstream industry, contact us today to learn more.


Michelle Dutemple, Recruitment Consultant for Oil & GasMichelle Dutemple, MBA, is a Senior Consultant specializing in engineer staffing for Midstream Operators and Private Equity firms. She also volunteers as board member at RedM against human trafficking and as creative admin at Hope City. Michelle can be reached at (832) 900-5973 or via email at [email protected]

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