It’s a decision I wouldn’t want to be making. Hold on to every last drop of water in what might be a futile attempt to irrigate my crops, or sell some or all of it to an energy company in the hopes that I can hold onto the family farm. Every day, farmers from California to Arkansas are faced with this difficult choice because drought is affecting them and the companies who are attempting to frack for oil or gas in the same dry locales.
While it is true that fracking generally consumes less water than residential or farming uses, the process still uses up to 6 million gallons of water per well in Texas and somewhere between 80,000 to 300,000 gallons in California. That’s still a lot of water in areas where farmers have already had to cut back production because of drought. The counties that are already suffering from drought in Wyoming, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Arkansas are also the counties that have been attracting the attention of fracking companies, and when water is for sale, the energy companies have much deeper pockets than farmers.
Rather than fight progress, some farmers like Charlie Smith from West Texas have decided to sell. Since the groundwater running under his fields isn’t enough to irrigate his crops, he’s going to let the land lie fallow and sell the water to drillers. His rationale: if he can’t make any money farming, might as well sell the water to the oil companies. Every little bit helps.
While more and more players in the shale extraction business are investing in high-tech water recycling systems, many producers still use fresh water from underground aquifers, or rivers, or they purchase surplus water from local utilities. Each state has its own regulations to deal with this issue, but it remains to be seen where this will all go in the long run. What if the droughts continue indefinitely?
Meantime, the quest for recovery from the recession and energy independence continues. I wonder, if there comes a battle for resources, whether food or fuel will prevail. What do you think?