News Feature | July 28, 2014

Does The Energy Industry Get More Than Its Fair Share Of Water?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Amid a global water scarcity crisis, does the energy industry have a leg up when it comes to water access? Many environmentalists and clean water advocates say yes. 

Just ask Ray Gilbertson and Kris Spanjian of Billings, MT, where water is a precious resource. 

"The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation regulates water use for agriculture, mining and municipalities to ensure judicious use of this vital resource. However, one industry has been conspicuously ignored," they said in a recent Billings Gazette editorial. 

"The oil-and-gas industry is not subject to the same scrutiny when it comes to water usage. The amount of water used by these companies is enormous, but there is little regulation of use, the potential for contamination of existing water supplies or the disposal of wastewater generated by new drilling technologies," it continued. 

In some areas, lack of clean water may pose a financial risk to oil and gas companies. 

"In the limited energy debate taking place in Mexico and the U.S there is a relevant area that has not received enough consideration: The externalities and geographic limitations of fracking in Mexico where the cost could be especially high. Fracking on a large scale requires several million gallons of water per well which could create conflicts with agriculture and basic fresh water needs in a country were 55 percent of the population receives water only intermittently, according to Mexico’s 2000 national census," a Forbes report said

The situation does not look like it will improve anytime soon. Christiana Peppard, a water ethics expert at Fordham University, said the battle over water and the need for energy is only going to get more intense, NBC News reported

"In arid states, there is a mounting tension between agricultural interests and oil and gas interests," Peppard said in the report. "Conflicts over water rights and use in the West are as old as Manifest Destiny, and this is the newest [iteration]," she said.

Energy From Shale, an advocacy group for oil and gas operations, acknowledged that the energy industry could affect water supplies. 

"Although the water needed for drilling and fracking operations may represent a small volume relative to other requirements, withdrawals associated with large-scale developments, conducted over multiple years, may have a cumulative impact to watersheds and/or groundwater," the groups said. "This potential cumulative impact can be minimized or avoided by working with local water resource managers to develop a plan of when and where withdrawals will occur."

For more oil and gas news, check out Water Online's Produced Water Solution Center

Image credit: "Drilling for Oil," NatalieMaynor © 2007, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

Want to publish your opinion?

Contact us to become part of our Editorial Community.