Severe drought conditions are making the process of getting clean water for oil and gas exploration longer and more expensive for Oklahoma's booming energy industry.
Several of the state's largest oil and gas companies are looking at ways to conserve and reuse water.
Devon Energy Corp. is building a plant near Geary and Calumet in Canadian County to store and reuse produced water from its natural gas wells in the Cana Woodford shale.
The company began planning the water reuse plant before the onset of the severe drought in western Oklahoma, said Jim Heinze, Devon's manager of operations for the Anadarko Basin. Once operational, it will help alleviate some of the company's demands for water in the area, he said.
"We haven't delayed any work (because of the drought)," Heinze said. "What it has caused us to do is go longer distances to transfer the water to where we need it."
The plant will include a lined reservoir that can hold up to 500,000 gallons of the flow-back water that comes out of natural gas wells during the drilling process. The water will then be filtered and trucked back to well sites in the area to be reused in hydraulic fracturing. Eventually, a system of pipelines will link the water re-usage plant and the well sites, reducing the need for trucks.
The company anticipates the first phase to become operational during the first quarter of 2012, but getting the pipeline system in place will take longer.
Oil and gas exploration companies obtain the water for drilling and hydraulic fracturing through a variety of sources, including purchasing it from farm ponds on private land. A small but growing amount of groundwater is also being used for oil and gas production in the state.
So far in 2011, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board has granted 1,548 short-term permits to use about 13,000 acre feet of water for the oil and gas industry.
Although the amount is growing, the oil and gas industry still only uses a small percentage of the state's groundwater, said Brian Vance, director of information for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
The amount of groundwater the industry uses in the state is very small percentage of the 12,842 long-term permits for about 6.3 million acre-feet of water for all uses the water resources board tracks, he said. About 86 percent of the state's water usage is accounted for by cities, industrial and irrigation purposes, and thermoelectric power.
The Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association estimates the oil and gas industry will still only account for about 5 percent of the state's water usage by 2060.