Food, Fracking, and Freshwater: The Potential for Markets and Cross-Sectoral Investments to Enable Water Conservation

M.A. Cook and M.E. Webber, January 2016 (Citation)

Abstract

Hydraulic fracturing—the injection of pressurized fluid, often water, to increase recovery of oil or gas—has become increasingly popular in combination with horizontal drilling. Hydraulic fracturing improves production from a well, but requires a significant amount of water to do so and could put pressure on existing water resources, especially in water-stressed areas. To supply water needs, some water rights holders sell or lease their water resources to oil and gas producers in an informal water market. These transactions enable the opportunity for cross-sectoral investments, by which the energy sector either directly or indirectly provides the capital for water efficiency improvements in the agricultural sector as a mechanism to increase water availability for other purposes, including oil and gas production. In this analysis, we employ an original water and cost model to evaluate the water market in Texas and the potential for cross-sectoral collaboration on water efficiency improvements through a case study of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. We find that, if irrigation efficiency management practices were fully implemented, between 420 and 800 million m3 of water could be spared per year over a ten year period, potentially enabling freshwater use in oil and gas production for up to 26,000 wells, while maintaining agricultural productivity and possibly improving water flows to the ecosystem.

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Citation

M.A. Cook and M.E. Webber, “Food, Fracking, and Freshwater: The Potential for Markets and Cross-Sectoral Investments to Enable Water Conservation.” Water. 8(2), 45 (2016). doi: 10.3390/w8020045.