Driving the roads of the Llano Estacado I have noticed a significant increase in signs offering water for sale over the years. Watering stations with easy access for oil field service trucks have sprung up along the highways and back roads. After a little research, I discovered that the increase in shale oil production has encouraged entrepreneurial landowners to offer water to paying customers. The current drought began in 2010 and has significantly affected businesses across state lines.
With the increase of frack drillers and massive agricultural use, water is in short supply in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. Ranchers and farmers must feed their families, and selling water is one way to save their land and way of life. In seven years, water rates in this area have risen from 25 cents for a 42-gallon barrel to $1 a barrel.
“Fracking a well requires roughly 4 to 6 million gallons of water, which gets mixed with chemicals and sand to break up the rock and retrieve the oil or gas. In the Midland-Odessa region, where reservoirs sit 95 percent empty and cities and towns have been under severe water rationing for years, drillers are scrambling to find new sources of water.” (https://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2013/03/28/drilling-boom-spurs-a-rush-to-harness-brackish-water/).
Fresh water is best for fracking equipment, but brackish water will do in a pinch. (Brackish water is saltier than fresh water but not as concentrated as seawater.) A briny sea of water sits under the high plains. Without desalination, the water cannot be consumed. Landowners probably conclude that if they can’t drink it, they might as well sell it. Previously a bane to ranchers and farmers, it now represents a considerable source of revenue.
Competition between the small towns, whose water reserves are nearing the bottom of the barrel due to the extended drought, and oil companies, seeking water for their hydraulic fracturing, will likely heat up soon. I am not sure how this competition for water will play out. There is big money on the line for the oil companies, the large scale farmers, ranchers and the communities who rely on water for viability.
It is a truly a sign of supply and demand playing out before our very eyes.
I’ll keep you posted on the signs I see by the side of the road.