An exploratory analysis of unconventional energy development, agriculture, drought and water resources in a semiarid region, the Permian Basin (Texas)

Authors: Sophie Plassin*, University of Oklahoma, Jennifer Koch, University of Oklahoma, Randy Peppler, University of Oklahoma and Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, Madison Wilson, University of Oklahoma, Andrew Kim, University of Oklahoma
Topics: Energy, Land Use and Land Cover Change, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Hydraulic fracturing, Water scarcity, Fallow, Permian Basin
Session Type: Virtual Paper
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Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) production greatly increased in the U.S. over the last decade and in 2018, the U.S. became the largest global producer of oil and dry natural gas. The process of hydraulic fracturing, necessary to extract UOG, requires large quantities of water, which has increased concerns about water scarcity, especially in the semiarid Southwestern U.S. where major UOG plays are located. Questions that remain unaddressed are how rising need of water for UOG is interplaying with other sectors and particularly agriculture, which accounts for the majority of water withdrawals in this region, and how drought is affecting this relationship. We hypothesized that UOG leads to an increase in fallow/idle cropland, as water initially used for irrigated agriculture is transferred to UOG, and this relationship is exacerbated in drought periods. To test this, we analyzed in the Permian Basin in Texas from 2008-2018, the spatio-temporal dynamics of fallow area using the USDA Cropland Data Layer, wells’ water use for hydraulic fracturing from FracFocus, and the U.S. Drought Monitor weekly classification. Preliminary findings show that while use of water for UOG has risen since 2012, fallow area did not increase. In addition, even though the study area experienced a severe drought during 2011-2012, use of water for UOG production increased considerably after that. This suggests a decoupling of water use from water scarcity in the area, potentially affecting water resource sustainability in the future, particularly in face of climate change.

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