Four years into a drought that has plagued much of western Oklahoma, the oil and natural gas industry continues to expand its search for energy locked deep below the dusty surface.
Despite the increased oil and gas activity in the state, oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, still account for less than 2 percent of freshwater use in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Oklahoma Geological Survey.
Public water supply represents 41 percent of the state’s freshwater use, followed by irrigation at 32 percent and livestock and aquaculture at 12 percent.
“Even with the growth in fracking and unconventional drilling in the state, we still expect to see oil and gas in the grand scheme of things to be a very small piece of the overall water consumption pie in Oklahoma,” said J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
In the state’s 2060 water plan, oil and natural gas water use is expected to grow to about 4.8 percent over the next five decades.
Industry representatives, however, say the projections could be too high.
“As we grow in efficiency, I don’t know if we will have a significant increase over time,” said Brian Woodard, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.
Most oil and natural gas companies operate under 90-day provisional temporary groundwater or surface-water permits, which allow them the water they need for an operating area before moving on to the next drilling location.
The permits are relatively easy to receive — often in the same day. They also can be revoked easily.
“There have been a few instances where there is just not water available in a particular area where an oil and gas company has applied to take water, but we can usually help them find alternatives,” Strong said.
In other cases, a landowner downstream has complained that an oil and gas operator upstream has used up all the water intended for irrigation.
“A couple of times, we have called the operator and told them to stop pumping water until the farmer downstream with a senior right can irrigate,” Strong said. “We’ve never had a problem with them not complying.”
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