Oil industry taps Cheyenne hydrants for water

Associated Press Modified: October 6, 2010 at 7:34 pm •  Published: October 6, 2010
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The same water flowing from faucets and shower heads in Cheyenne homes is being used for drilling oil wells.

Two companies that supply water to the oil industry have signed agreements allowing them to buy city water and fill their trucks from fire hydrants on the edge of town.

Meanwhile, the City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on zoning changes that would ease many of the requirements before the trucks can fill up on private property.

"The goal is basically to get the trucks off the street so that they're not simply parked on the side of the road, loading their trucks with water," city planner Matt Ashby said Tuesday.

At least a half-dozen oil wells are being drilled in the Cheyenne area and the state has permitted another 120 oil wells in that corner of the state. The rigs are targeting the Niobrara Shale, a formation nearly two miles deep that geologically resembles the booming Bakken Shale in western North Dakota.

Oil industry demand for water could take off in southeast Wyoming. Drilling an oil well can require 4 million gallons of water or more.

A technique called hydraulic fracturing involves pumping underground millions of gallons of water, plus sand and chemicals, to break open fissures and improve the flow of oil. Companies also sprinkle water on dirt roads to keep the dust down.

Problem is, southeast Wyoming doesn't have a lot of water. That leaves water hauling companies dealing left and right to use water from farm and ranch wells, said Harry LaBonde, deputy state engineer.

One reason they're doing that — and using city water — is because water wells in a large area east of town are tightly regulated to protect the aquifer, LaBonde said.