Fracking fuels water fights in nation's dry spots
Competition for the limited resource is driving up prices and affecting agriculture.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The latest domestic energy boom is sweeping through some of the nation's driest pockets, drawing millions of gallons of water to unlock oil and gas reserves from beneath the Earth's surface.
Hydraulic fracturing, or the drilling technique commonly known as fracking, has been used for decades to blast huge volumes of water, fine sand and chemicals into the ground to crack open valuable shale formations.
But now, as energy companies vie to exploit vast reserves west of the Mississippi, fracking's new frontier is expanding to the same lands where crops have shriveled and waterways have dried up due to severe drought.
In Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, the vast majority of the counties where fracking is occurring are also suffering from drought, according to an Associated Press analysis of industry-compiled fracking data and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's official drought designations.
While fracking typically consumes less water than farming or residential uses, the exploration method is increasing competition for the precious resource, driving up the price of water and burdening already depleted aquifers and rivers in certain drought-stricken stretches.
Some farmers and city leaders worry that the fracking boom is consuming too much of a scarce resource, while others see the push for production as an opportunity to make money by selling water while furthering the nation's goal of energy independence.
Along Colorado's Front Range, fourth-generation farmer Kent Peppler said he is fallowing some of his corn fields this year because he can't afford to irrigate the land for the full growing season, in part because deep-pocketed energy companies have driven up the price of water.
"There is a new player for water, which is oil and gas," said Peppler, of Mead, Colo. "And certainly they are in a position to pay a whole lot more than we are."
In a normal year, Peppler said he would pay anywhere from $9 to $100 for an acre-foot of water in auctions held by cities with excess supplies. But these days, energy companies are paying some cities $1,200 to $2,900 per acre-foot. The Denver suburb of Aurora made a $9.5 million, five-year deal last summer to provide the oil company Anadarko 2.4 billion gallons of excess treated sewer water.
In South Texas, where drought has forced cotton farmers to scale back, local water officials said drillers are contributing to a drop in the water table in several areas.
For example, as much as 15,000 acre-feet of water are drawn each year from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer to frack wells in the southern half of the Eagle Ford Shale, one of the nation's most profitable oil and gas fields.
That's equal to about one-half of the water recharged annually into the southern portion of the aquifer, which spans five counties that are home to about 330,000 people, said Ron Green, a scientist with the nonprofit Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
The Eagle Ford, extending from the Mexican border into East Texas, began to boom in 2011, just as Texas struggled with the worst one-year drought in its history. While conditions have improved, most of the state is still dealing with some level of drought, and many reservoirs and aquifers have not been fully replenished.
"The oil industry is doing the big fracks and pumping a substantial amount of water around here," said Ed Walker, general manager of the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District, which manages an aquifer that serves as the main water source for farmers and about 29,000 people in three counties.
"When you have a big problem like the drought and you add other smaller problems to it like all the fracking, then it only makes things worse," Walker said.
West Texas cotton farmer Charlie Smith is trying to make the best of the situation. He plans to sell some of the groundwater coursing beneath his fields to drillers, because it isn't enough to irrigate his lands in Glasscock County. Smith's fields, like the rest of the county, were declared to be in a drought disaster area this year by the USDA.
"I was going to bed every night and praying to the good Lord that we would get just one rain on the crop," said Smith, who hopes to earn several thousand dollars for each acre-foot of water he can sell. "I realized we're not making any money farming, so why not sell the water to the oil companies? Every little bit helps."
The amount of water needed to hydraulically fracture a well varies greatly, depending on how hard it is to extract oil and gas from each geological formation. In Texas, the average well requires up to 6 million gallons of water, while in California each well requires 80,000 to 300,000 gallons, according to estimates by government and trade associations.
Depending on state and local water laws, frackers may draw their water for free from underground aquifers or rivers, or may buy and lease supplies belonging to water districts, cities and farmers. Some of the industry's largest players are also investing in high-tech water recycling systems to frack with gray or brackish water.
Halliburton, for instance, recently started marketing a new technology that allows customers to use recycled wastewater, calling it an "investment to further the sustainable development of the oil and gas industry." The American Petroleum Institute, the principal lobbying group for the industry, said its members are working to become less dependent on fresh water, and instead draw on other sources.
"Recycling wastewater helps conserve water use and provide cost-saving opportunities," said Reid Porter, a spokesman for the group.
In some states, regulators have stepped in to limit the volume or type of water that energy companies can use during drought conditions.
In northwest Louisiana, as the production rush began in the Haynesville Shale in 2009, the state water agency ordered oil and gas companies to stop pulling groundwater from the local aquifer that also supplied homes and businesses, and use surface water instead. That order is still in effect and has helped groundwater levels to recover, said Patrick Courreges, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
In Colorado's Weld County, home to Peppler's farm and more than 19,000 active oil and gas wells, some officials see selling unneeded portions of their allotments from the Colorado River as a way to shore up city budgets.
The county seat of Greeley sold 1,575 acre-feet of water last year to contractors that supply fracking companies, and made about $4.1 million. It sold farmers nearly 100 times more water but netted just $396,000.
"The oil and gas industry is a small but significant player," said Jon Monson, director of the city's water department, which has designated 35 fire hydrants where haulers may fill up their tanks to truck to gas wells. "Just knowing that oil and gas is a boom-and-bust industry, we are trying to not get used to it as a source of revenue because we know it won't last."
Some environmental groups argue that local and regional planners should let the public weigh in on how much drilling can be supported in drought-stricken areas. Some states require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals and the amount of water they use in fracking operations on FracFocus.org, a website formed by industry and intergovernmental groups in 2011, but the statistics are not complete.
"We don't want to look up 20 years from now and say, 'Oops, we used up all our water,'" said Jason Banes of the Boulder, Colo.-based Western Resource Advocates.
In California, oil companies are pressing for further exploration of the massive Monterey Shale, a 1,750-square-mile area extending from the agricultural Central Valley to the Pacific Ocean that federal energy officials say could ultimately comprise two-thirds of the nation's shale oil reserves.
In Ventura County, at the southern tip of the Monterey Shale and an hour north of Los Angeles, drought-induced pressures on local water systems are already visible; one local water district predicts some groundwater wells will go dry by summer.
David Schwabauer, a fourth-generation farmer in the county, said overtures by companies that want to drill new wells amid his avocado and lemon groves are prompting difficult conversations about how to manage the family farm. One orchard relies on irrigation from an overdrawn aquifer, while the other is kept alive using expensive water piped in from the distant Sierra Nevada mountains.
"Some parts of the family have very strong feelings against it, given the challenges that we face environmentally," Schwabauer said. "But other parts of the family are very comfortable with it, because we still have to stay in business. We still haven't reached a decision."
Local towns everywhere initiate water restrictions when water is low/low rainfall year.
These SOBs come in and use as much water as they want,wherever they want,whenever they want.
Should I be surprised? Probably not.
Is this very disturbing,both the lack of surprise and the limitless water use? Absolutely.
But,we are powerless to stop anything a company wants to do. Purely powerless.
Rollerball society is great,isn't it folks? Or is it just me? Nope.
The fact is that fracking requires 5 million gallons of water per well per frack. And a well will be fracked between 3 and 9 times, depending on its productivity. Taking an average of 5 fracks, that is 25 million gallons. For one well. And a drilling site will have multiple wells, so we are up in the 100 million gallons and above for most operations.
Exactly what does Mr. Burke thinks "residential use" comprises? A household? A residential block? Town? City? And please be specific about agricultural use. Agriculture has been largely self-sustaining in the West, with fairly well managed aquifer and river draw-downs (the Colorado River's disastrous drawdown is largely due to Arizona and Southern California cities need for the same green lawns found in English countrysides).
And your figure of 80,000-300,000 gallons for fracking in California is consistent with vertical fracking, not high volume horizontal Fracturing (HVHF) slickwater fracking, which is what the rest of this article is about. Citing vertical fracking figures in the midst of an article on HVHF is either misinformed or disengenuous. Please keep the writing straight.
The real issue is why, in an era of increasing drought, should we compare agricultural and residential use to fracking at all?? The first two use the water then return it to the hydrologic cycle. Fracking poisons the water beyond remediation, so it must be buried away from all other avenues of aquifer, groundwater and riverine circulation.
Why would we take a precious resource necessary for life, poison it, make a profit on using it, then bury it forever?
ALL of us should condemn Corn Ethanol and any fuel made from primary food sources. Besides water C.E. drives up food prices as not only is it used to feed the animals that we eat or consume products made by them (milk,eggs,etc.) but corn (popular grain) is also used to produce many other food products as well. Mass clearing of forests (read the article in National Geographic from an American Cattle Rancher in South America), driving out cattle ranchers (refuse and be killed or at least Castrated) and so on..
The problem is once it becomes Big Money and Profit good luck shutting it down. It's like opening Pandora's Box or inviting a Vampire into your house. Once you do it's Damn hard to get things under control again. It doesn't matter if it's Libs or Cons, Dems or Reps, etc. NOBODY wants to lose it once they got it. Better to blame and take from the other guy.
EVERY GALLON of the water used to produce our multiple wells was sourced via reprocessing and in our contract MUST be disposed of in a safe manner that we could VERIFY. My Pops had 2 temporary positions with an Oil and Gas Company and having Civil and Mech. Engineering experience was able to understand clearly what could go wrong.
First on a rig because he thought it sounded like fun and he had nothing better to do for the winter. His first day was 18 hours which was often the norm for him anyway so no big deal but many of the guys had been working over 24 hours with little to no rest and/or food. Drinking from the start of the first shift, all kinds of drugs as well and the Driller that was standing a Rig up for the FIRST time was smoking a joint. What could possibly go wrong with all of this - lolz
Second time was in the offices. R&D, materials, human resource management, etc. So he developed a well rounded picture over all.
Take all of the above variables regarding sleep depravation, lack of food, drugs, alchohol, exhaustion, stress, etc. and factor in that this was often the NORMAL and not just a one or two day thing. Think about all of the skills that deteriorate and how common sense and judgement break down as well. Then factor in the .........Drilling, the CONCRETE (better get it right or your well WILL have problems), Maintenance, Safety, and many other variables. That is where the Fracking problems start.
We have multiple wells on a rather large working farm where we raise cows and calves for dairy (farm fresh milk, ricotta cheese, butter, etc,) chickens for eggs, fruits, vegetables, pond raised fish. This is what we do besides our day jobs as it is great for raising children, family time and getting away from the crazy people at the end of the day. One pond is essentially a swimming hole cuz what's a farm without one to cool off in or see kids play, plus the others (and more to go) that we restored (the former Morons filled them in instead of just watching their children. Then they whine when they don't get enough rain and have no water so they can't irrigate. Oddly enough they claimed to be Conservatives........I thought only us Libbies are supposed to do that - lolz ) also supply our drip irrigation that we use if needed. Also our food is produced using old school farming practices, cows and chickens enjoy life they graze and we supplement a natural diet as required, drugs are used sparingly ( sick animals make sick food so we dispose of it until it is safe) and we don't dump chemicals and such all over our produce either. The Clydes, Feral Horses (Mustangs), and others aren't bling as they help out as well.
We have a vested interest in everything working correctly because our lives and success depend on it. Therefore we have First Hand H.K.U. experience and that my Conservative friends is the Bottom Line.
We pump frack water into zones that contain oil and gas. The oil and gas have been trapped there for millions of years. If we pump water (with 1% of nasty chemicals in it), into the zones where oil and gas exist (and have not been able to migrate into fresh water zones), how will these chemicals make their way to the fresh water zones?
The answer is they won't. The chemicals cant migrate just like the oil and gas cant migrate out.
Fracking can have bad events happen, but for the vast majority of pumping jobs, the chemicals are used safely and won't affect fresh water, ever.
I remember when I was a kid and my friends and even some family members mistreat the tributaries and the Lake Ontario ... I used to tell them in the very early 70's, one day we will pay for our stupidity .... one day will be buying water off store shelf's .... they laughed at me, never going to happen they said.
..... just look at the island of Fiji, military dictatorship government and a American company pillaging the water resources of a entire country just so some people here in the US and around the world can drink good water.
These people sometimes go without (except of emergency supplies) so we can drink their water ... disgusting.
Obama sips it. Paris Hilton loves it. Mary J. Blige won't sing without it. How did a plastic water bottle, imported from a military dictatorship thousands of miles away, become the epitome of cool?
If we start messing with our drinking water, slowly but surely we will put an end to civilization as we know it. Why don't the frackers use salt water?