Wyoming and other Western states need to better track the amount of groundwater that’s depleted by hydraulic fracturing, according to a new report by a regional land-use organization.
If the states don’t do so, there may not be water left for municipal and agricultural uses, according to the report by the Billings, Mont.-based Western Organization of Resource Councils, which represents smaller, grassroots land-use groups.
“Little notice is given to what in the long term may become a more serious threat,” Bob LeResche, a Clearmont rancher and board member of the Billings organization and the Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council, said during a Thursday teleconference to promote the report.
“This water, once it’s used, is gone for good,” said Pat Wilson, a land and mineral owner from Bainville, Mont., and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council. “Unlike any other human use that I can think of, it’s extracted from the hydrological cycle, never to return.”
In most parts of the United States, groundwater is owned and regulated by the states, except in places such as the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, where resident Theodora Bird Bear said the regulator, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, doesn’t focus on water depletion, despite the oil boom in the Bakken formation.
To do hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, companies drill sometimes 10,000 feet deep or more and roughly a mile or more horizontally, LeResche said. They pump in millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to split open rock and release oil and gas.
After fracking, the water has chemicals and salt in it.
Some of the water stays deep in the formation. Most flows back to the top and is usually disposed of in a separate well that goes into a deep formation of water that has a poor quality and cannot be used by humans or animals, LeResche said.
At least one company, Devon Energy, has reused the water in multiple wells, the report noted.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council would like to see more such recycling.