November 27, 2008

Oil impacts entire state

Oil impacts entire state

Editor’s note: This the final of a three-part series about oil and gas activity in Mountrail County and northwestern North Dakota.



There’s no doubt oil and gas are having a huge affect on Mountrail County, but what most people don’t realize is the indirect impact this commodity has on the entire state.

As an example, water is critical in oil production and many companies are beginning to look at recycling to protect the resource, according to John Harju, associate director for research at the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks.

Even though it takes less water to fracture shale rocks to extract oil than it does to irrigate corn or soybeans, Harju said there are ways the wastewater can be reused and the idea is gaining interest, not so much to be "green," but because in the future water may become scarce all across the western United States.

"As we continue to pursue ecnomic development and the population increases, demand for every-increasing amounts of energy to support that growth will require water," Harju said. "In areas where water resources are limited or become scarce because of overallocation and/or drought, competing interests for water could limit energy development and production. And with the vibrant oil, ga and utility interests in the region, potential water reuse synergies among energy-related industries should be explored."

He said significant volumes of water are used in the drilling and completion of oil and gas wells. Thus, it might be a good idea for wastewater from other industries be used to supply water needed for drilling operations, and options may exist to treat and reuse the produced water from oil and gas operations.

"Finding innovative solutions that expand water resource options for the energy industries in the region is one of the key goals of the Northern Great Plains Water Consortium," Harju said. "And the consortium is looking at recycling frac water."

To better understand how much water is used in various industries in North Dakota, Harju provided a chart of water flow equivalents.

As an example, typical daily water use for a city the size of Minot, Gillette, Wyo., Grand Island, Neb., or Medicine Hat, Alberta is about 10 million gallons. That’s the equivalent of 238,000 barrels, 30.7 acre feet or 37,850 cubic meters.

In comparison, a 130-acre center pivot irrigation system will use 1 million gallons daily, which translates to 24,000 barrels, 3 acre feet or 3,815 cubic meters.

Proposed maximum daily volume of water imported for the Red River Valley Water Supply Project in case Fargo has a drought, is 78 million gallons a day, which translates to 1.8 million barrels, 238 acre feet or 293,556 cubic meters.

Water used to fracture the formation for an oil well in the Bakken Formation is a one-time use of 500,000 to 1 million gallons. That translates to 12 million barrels, 1.5-3.1 acre feet or up to 3,785 cubic meters.

"The various industries and water users within the region often use different units of reference when referring to water consumption and discharge," Harju said. "To gain a perspective on the relationship between municipal, industrial and agricultural water use, it is helpful to compare some common units and examples of water use among the sectors."

But water isn’t the only indirect impact from oil and gas, according to Vicky Steiner. She said there is political impact; sometimes huge political impact that surfaced in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

A similar push could be coming again as the 2009 Legislature gets ready for the next session.

The Weather Network