The volume of water used for mining -- which includes oil and gas extraction with fracking -- is miniscule compared to the amount used to irrigate crops, serve municipalities and supply manufacturers. But large-scale fracking is a relatively new use not without controversy, and that continues to draw scrutiny at a time when Texas and much of the West have been gripped by drought.
Republican nominee for Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) Ryan Sitton has weighed in with a paper on "how the energy industry should be evaluated as comprehensive water solutions are developed for the entire state." Meanwhile, entities that draw water from the Colorado River -- municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado -- as well as the Bureau of Reclamation are implementing a landmark Colorado River System Conservation program.
"Even if we eliminated all water usage for oil and gas production, that would only save the state [of Texas] less than 1% of the total water used in the state," Sitton said. "I believe strongly that we need comprehensive solutions that evaluate every type of water usage in Texas and encourage conservation, recycling, reuse and other options to optimize water utilization in a comprehensive way."
In 2008, the total amount of water used for oil and gas production was about 57,000 acre-feet, with fracking comprising 35,800 acre-feet of that total, Sitton said, citing data in a recentwhite paper. "In 2011, the fracking number had grown to 81,500 acre-feet but then dipped in 2012 as recycle/reuse, brackish water and waterless fracks began to be utilized," he said. "Therefore, while the total amount of water usage has increased, the proportion of fresh water used to the amount of oil/gas produced has actually decreased.
"More importantly, the ratio of recycled/reused water and brackish water to fresh water is also changing dramatically. Oil and gas operators are increasingly using non-freshwater in their operations. Over three years, according to the Texas Oil and Gas Association, they increased non-freshwater usage by 600% (from 3% to 21%)."
Sitton called for Texas to embrace "comprehensive water planning," including recycle/reuse, desalination and conservation techniques in all industries. In the oil and gas industry, large-scale recycle/reuse facilities are particularly appropriate, he said. "In key areas, where water shortage is experienced and oil and gas operators have a relatively strong presence, there should be some consideration of the construction of pooled recycle/reuse facilities to handle produced water, frack water and brackish water, so that the industry can benefit from economies of scale and work together to conserve resources."
Sitton and Democrat Steve Brown are in a race for a seat on the three-member RRC. Sitton is an oil and gas industry executive, and Brown is a former Fort Bend County Democratic Party chairman. If he is elected, Sitton would be the first engineer on the RRC in several decades.
Along the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is soliciting water conservation project proposals from Colorado River entitlement holders in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Later, water users in the Upper Basin will be invited to participate in the effort.
Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern Nevada Water Authority, and Reclamation are providing up to $11 million to fund Colorado River water conservation projects intended to reduce demand for Colorado River water. The program is soliciting project proposals from agriculture, and municipal and industrial Colorado River water entitlement holders.
For more than a decade, a severe drought unprecedented in the last 100 years has gripped the Colorado River, reducing water levels in storage reservoirs throughout the basin and increasing the risk of falling to critically low water levels. In July, reservoir levels in Lake Mead dipped to the lowest level since Hoover Dam was filled in 1937, according to the bureau.
The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in gross metropolitan product per year.
The bureau is requesting project proposals for 2015 and 2016 funding by Nov. 17.