As the crude oil boom requires more water, West Texas struggles over a precious resource. A land baron, oilman and entrepreneur is on the brink of pumping 5.2 million barrels of water per day from under the vast deserts of southwest Texas, piping it about 60 miles through the wild mountains here in the Permian Basin and pumping it all the way to the United States’ most prolific oil field, the Midland Basin.
With the approval of the Texas Railroad Commission, a new pipeline has already been laid to transport the water from here to Laredo, Texas, where the pipelines will join with another pipeline that transports crude oil to Mexico. Both these pipelines will deliver the water to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico Coast or in Texas, Oklahoma, or other states.
The new pipeline, which will run along the boundary line between Texas and Mexico, is expected to cross seven rivers and lakes within West Texas. It could also run along the boundary line of the Permian basin. The new pipeline will not be able to transport more than two million barrels of water per day, but that may prove to be more than enough for the growing needs of the oil industry in Southwest Texas.
The Permian basin in West Texas is one of the world’s largest oil-bearing basins, with an estimated one trillion barrels of reserves. If this oil reserve is fully exploited, there is no telling how much of it could be in reserve and how much oil could be spilled.
Oil exploration in the area has long been in the news, but it has recently taken on an even more dangerous and potentially devastating dimension. The Permian basin is also one of the few areas on Earth where earthquakes are becoming a serious problem, particularly during periods when there is little or no precipitation or snow.
When there is no precipitation, the underground water table goes down, which makes it more difficult for underground aquifer recharge to occur, meaning that the area gets drier. More groundwater means less ground water means less evaporation of rain, less snow melting in the mountains, and more ice forming on the snow-covered mountain slopes, and thus, less runoff for streams and rivers. The Permian basin has already experienced such a decline in groundwater recharge in recent years due to a combination of factors, including drought, poor storm drainage, an increased pumping of groundwater by oil companies, and changing groundwater chemistry.
This year, the State of Texas and the United States Environmental Protection Agency are trying to set up a system to help alleviate some of the pressure on the Permian basin by drawing from an existing water supply located in the Midland basin. The new system, known as the Western Water Resource Conservation Board, is being financed through a special loan program sponsored by the state and administered by the U.S. Department of Energy. By making it easier for oil companies to tap into that already-existing source of water for their operations in the area, the plan is expected to help offset some of the effects of the new pipeline that will be coming to Texas.
Although the aquifer recharge plan is aimed at the Permian basin, it will benefit other areas as well. Because the Midland Basin supplies such a large portion of the country’s freshwater, it is also a critical part of our nation’s groundwater recharge.
The Permian basin and its adjacent area are one of the most important areas for groundwater recharge in the western United States. That’s because the Permian basin provides a great deal of water for many different uses. From drinking water, for agricultural and residential use, to municipal water supply and industrial purposes, the Permian basin and its basin and rivers provide the country with an abundant amount of water for our needs.
The Permian basin also provides many opportunities to use the water for other uses. The Permian basin is considered one of the country’s “critical water basins” that can make a tremendous contribution to our nation’s water resources if used correctly. Groundwater recharge in the Permian basin, especially from wells, helps the environment and supports the Permian basin and Midland basin aquifers by creating additional groundwater that is usable for agriculture, energy production, domestic water storage, and even municipal water.
The aquifer recharge plan, while providing a temporary respite from potential environmental damage to the Permian basin, may just be the boost that Permian basin water companies need to continue to invest in groundwater recharge. In the end, the project will also help to ensure that the Permian basin remains an abundant source of water for years to come.