Insatiable Thirst? When drought occurs, fracking and farming collide

As Drought Continues, Farmers Fear Feds Could Seize Water by sanfransisco.cbslocal, January 28, 2014
With no end in sight to California’s drought, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley fear federal officials could seize water in the San Luis Reservoir intended for their crops. The Fresno Bee says dropping reservoir levels across the state are leading to struggles over water set aside via the Central Valley Project, a federally-run network of reservoirs, pumping plants and canals. That includes about 340,000 acre-feet of water stored at San Luis Reservoir.

Study: Fracking, agriculture are on water demand ‘collision course’ by UPI, February 7, 2014
The study by Ceres — an investor group based in Boston that focuses on sustainability issues — is based on water use data from 39,294 oil and gas wells reported to from January 2011 through May 2013 and water stress indicator maps developed by the World Resources Institute. More than 55 percent of the wells were in areas experiencing drought and more than 36 percent overlay regions experiencing groundwater depletion, Ceres said in a news release Wednesday announcing its “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers” report. …

“Investors and banks providing capital for hydraulic fracturing should be recognizing these water sourcing risks and pressing oil and gas companies on their strategies for dealing with them,” Lubber said. …

A report in the San Antonio Express-News Wednesday cited a recent investigation by the newspaper revealing that hydraulic fracturing used more than 14 billion gallons of water in the Eagle Ford in 2012. It noted that a widely cited University of Texas at Austin study — which it says was funded by the oil and gas industry — had predicted hydraulic fracturing in the Eagle Ford would use a maximum of around 35,000 acre-feet of water annually. …

“Groundwater is simply not as plentiful as it used to be. We now recognize many competing uses — domestic, agricultural, for energy production and for the environment,” said Jay Famiglietti, professor and director Earth System Science, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine, in the release. [Emphasis added]

When drought occurs, fracking and farming collide by Mark Jaffe, February 9, 2014, The Denver Post
The move to tap petroleum-rich shale reserves in some of the country’s driest regions, including Colorado, may be setting up a battle between oil and water. The water is needed for hydraulic fracturing, a process that pumps millions of gallons of sand and water into a well to crack the hard shale and release oil and gas. Nearly half of the 39,294 reported “fracked” wells drilled in the U.S. since 2011 are in regions with high or extreme water stress, according to a report by Ceres, an investor and environmental-advocacy group. In Colorado, Ceres found that 97 percent of the wells are being drilled in highly or extremely highly water-stressed areas, such as the Denver-Julesburg Basin. In 2013, two-thirds of the 1,839 new wells in Colorado were drilled in Weld County, the heart of the DJ Basin.

The water demands for fracking — a process used since the 1940s — have soared with the advent of horizontal wells, which can stretch 2 miles underground.

A vertical well in the DJ Basin uses about 350,000 gallons of frack water; a horizontal well uses about 10 times as much, according to industry data. “Hydraulic fracturing is happening in places that are already facing high competition for water,” said Monika Freyman, senior manager of the Ceres water program. Steps are already being taken in Colorado to address the potential conflict, industry representatives and regulators say.

More than a year ago, the state began requiring operators to identify water volumes used in fracking individual wells, and the amount of recycled water involved, said Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “There are things being done to resolve the friction with this new water user,” said Ken Carlson, head of the Center for Energy and Water Sustainability at Colorado State University. These include water and fracking-fluid recycling, utilizing water that can’t be used for drinking or irrigation and centralizing facilities to be more efficient.

“But there is no doubt there are some winners and losers in the DJ Basin,” Carlson said.

The CSU center, which has received financial backing from the industry, is working with companies on the use and management of water and ways to increase recycling. In the gas-rich Piceance Basin, Encana Corp., one of the top operators, recycles 90 percent of the fluid and water from its wells, said company spokesman Doug Hock. [Saying and doing, are most often two very different things, notably when money is involved.] But [Ah ha!] in the DJ Basin, Encana has not been able to achieve those rates because of geological and economic factors, Hock said. “Every basin is different, and in the DJ, where they are drilling for oil instead of gas and using heavy gels, recycling is harder,” Carlson said. “Less than 10 percent of the water is being recycled.”

Ceres based its study on company drilling reports filed with and federal data on groundwater depletion and drought. In Colorado, the DJ Basin on the Eastern Plains and the Piceance Basin on the Western Slope were areas of drilling activity and water stress. The Eagleford and Permian basins in Texas had the most acute water problems, the report said.

In Colorado, the two largest operators in the DJ Basin — Noble Energy and Anadarko Petroleum — are taking steps to better manage water, company officials say. Houston-based Noble is getting 85 percent of its water from supplies that do not compete with drinking-water resources, said company spokesman Jonathan Ekstrom. For example, Noble is looking at drilling wells as deep as 1,000 feet to water that is too salty for municipal or farm use, CSU’s Carlson said.

Encana and Noble have also been developing centralized drilling facilities where drilling and recycling can be done more efficiently, Carlson said. Still, the state oil and gas commission is projecting that demand for fracking water will grow by 35 percent between 2010 and 2015 to 6.1 billion gallons.

In Colorado, 86 percent of the state’s water is used by agriculture. Municipalities and industry use 7.4 percent. [This water is not lost permanently; 25-100% of water used in fracturing is lost permanently]

While oil and gas companies have created a small market for water, it hasn’t had a major impact on farms, said Bill Midcap, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “There are cases where companies have bid up water to more than farmers can afford, but it is in a few cases,” Midcap said.

Several water utilities are also selling water under long-term contracts. The city of Aurora has a five-year contract to lease Anadarko 1,500 acre-feet of effluent water a year for $9.5 million. Water prices have, however, soared on the so-called rental market, where municipal water utilities sell excess water. An acre-foot has fetched as much as $1,500. “That is too pricey for a farmer,” Werner said.

U.S. counties with the highest water use for fracking in drought-stressed regions in 2012:

Garfield (Colorado)

1.9 billion gallons

Karnes (Texas)

1.7 billion gallons

Weld (Colorado)

1.3 billion gallons

Gonzales and Glasscock (Texas)

0.9 billion gallons

Insatiable Thirst? The Fracking/Water Collision in South Texas by Peyton Fleming, February 7, 2014, Water Currents, Newswatch National Geographic
And then there are the potted country roads lined with artificial ponds, water stations and miles of above-ground pipelines. In every town, you hear about the region’s unrelenting drought and aggressive measures ‘frackers’ are using to acquire critical freshwater for their wells. Hundreds of new wells are being drilled in this basin every month and each requires several million gallons of water.

“I was eating lunch one day and I look out the window and see one of these fracking trucks taking water from one of the town’s fire hydrants,” said Kathy Payne, 77, mayor of a small speck of a town Nordheim, shaking her head in disbelief. Her message to the trucker and the many industry representatives who have offered to buy the town’s water is always the same. “I won’t sell water unless it’s for our citizens.”

But she notes, “If I’d done otherwise, all of our roads would be paved.” Payne can expect more offers. Shale energy production is projected to double in this region in the next decade, which means the industry will need twice as much water.

The Eagle Ford Basin in south Texas is ground zero of the nation’s prolific fracking growth and deepening questions of whether there is enough freshwater to sustain it. 

Virtually all the water is coming from groundwater aquifers, many of them in small remote counties that are already facing serious depletion challenges. In Dimmitt, Zavala and La Salle Counties, for example, local aquifers have dropped 100 to 300 feet the past few decades, yet hundreds of fracking wells were put into production, using more than seven billion gallons of water. 

Larry Baxter, a landowner in Mertzon in the Permian Basin, installed two frack tanks on his land last year so he could sell water to the oil industry. By his own estimates, he expected to make up to $36,000 a month filling up 20 to 30 water trucks for the oil industry each day. “I could sell 100 truckloads a day if I was open to it,” Baxter told the Guardian last summer.

This get-rich-quick zeal has a growing number of Texans feeling nervous. Local water regulators and environmentalists say the industry’s growth and unchecked groundwater withdrawals are not sustainable and predict that many groundwater sources will run dry if tougher water controls are not adopted.

“As the bank accounts rise, aquifers drop. That is precisely what is happening,” said Hugh Fitzsimons, a rancher and director of the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District, where roughly a third of total water use is for hydraulic fracturing.

But curbing the industry’s growing thirst will not be easy. … The state’s archaic ‘rule of capture’ law is another impediment. Simply put, it allows property owners to pump as much groundwater to the surface as they wish, even if it is drawn from a common aquifer that extends under a neighbor’s land. This creates the problem of property owners racing to extract as much water as possible from a common resource. …

Failing to make progress on these fronts will almost certainly put the industry’s growth and the region’s limited freshwater supplies on a collision course, with negative consequences for everyone. [Emphasis added]

Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers by Ceres, February 2014

[Refer also to:

Study: In Midst of Drought, Fracking Industry Does Little to Recycle Water

California farmers ask governor for fracking moratorium to save water; Energy in Depth says fracing does not use millions of gallons of water

Drought Emergency Declared in California as Residents Urge Halt to Fracking

A Primer for Understanding Canadian Shale Gas – Energy Briefing Note by Canada’s National Energy Board, November 2009.

Flow-back water is infrequently reused in other fracs because of the potential for corrosion or scaling, where the dissolved salts may precipitate out of the water and clog parts of the well or the formation.

AEA: Support to the identification of potential risks for the environment and human health arising from hydrocarbons operations involving hydraulic fracturing in Europe

A proportion (25% to 100%) of the water used in hydraulic fracturing is not recovered, and consequently this water is lost permanently to re-use, which differs from some other water uses in which water can be recovered and processed for re-use. ]

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