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During Record Draught, Frackers Outcompete Farmers for Water Supplies

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The impacts of 2013′s severe drought are apparent across the nation in forests, on farms and on once snowy peaks. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is demanding unprecedented amounts of water for hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

Fourth-generation Colorado farmer Kent Peppler told the Associated Press (AP) that he is fallowing some of his corn fields this year because he can’t afford to irrigate the land for the full growing season, in part because deep-pocketed energy companies have driven up the price of water.

“There is a new player for water, which is oil and gas. And certainly they are in a position to pay a whole lot more than we are,” Peppler said.

In a normal year, Peppler would pay anywhere from $9 to $100 for an acre-foot of water in auctions held by cities with excess supplies. But these days, energy companies are paying some cities $1,200 to $2,900 per acre-foot.

In seven states, including Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming, the vast majority of the counties where fracking is occurring are also suffering from drought, according to an AP analysis of industry-compiled fracking data and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official drought designations.

The persistent U.S. drought wreaked havoc on American agriculture, raising food prices and forcing farmers to make record high insurance claims on lost profits for 2012.

As farmers struggle to make ends meet, limited fresh water reserves across the country are being diverted for fracking. The fossil fuel industry has identified deposits of oil and gas within shale rock formations deep underground, formerly inaccessible. In this new, “unconventional” drilling process, water mixed with sand and chemicals is injected into horizontal wells running through the shale. The injection cracks apart the rock, releasing the oil and gas and allowing it to rise to the surface for extraction.

Fracking requires enormous quantities of water. Estimates put water usage at between 3 and 5 million gallons per fracking of a single well, and each well can be fracked several times.


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