Drilling boom adds stress to U.S. western water supplies: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About 60% of federal oil and gas drilling leases offered since 2017 are located in areas that are at risk of shortages and droughts, according to a report released on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Oil drilling rigs operate in the Permian Basin in Lea County, New Mexico, U.S., February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

The report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress argued an increase in drilling in these areas could worsen water shortages, a potential problem for ranchers, farmers, and municipalities, because it requires vast amounts of water.

“Oil and gas leasing in water-stressed areas has been largely unscrutinized but poses threats to water users across the West,” report author Jenny Rowland Shea said.

Oil and gas producers using the hydraulic fracturing process typically pump a concoction of water, chemicals and proppants into underground reservoirs to break open rock formations and increase pressure, forcing hydrocarbons to the surface.

A proppant is a material such as sand used to prop open the underground cracks from which oil and natural gas can then be harvested during the fracturing process.

The average fracking job now consumes 13 million gallons (49 million liters) of water, up 40% in two years here, according to a Reuters analysis of Permian producers’ data reported to

The Center For American Progress report analyzed leasing data from the Interior Department and a water risk map from the World Resources Institute.

In Nevada, 1,050 of 1,122 drilling leases were offered in areas of “high” or “extremely high” water stress, according to the report. In New Mexico, the heart of the Permian Basin here oil boom, 387 of 402 leases under the Trump administration, or 95%, are located in “extremely high” water-stress areas, it said.

The report urged the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to weigh the impact of drilling on local water use in its permitting decisions.

“With climate change increasing water scarcity in much of the West, consideration of energy development impacts on watersheds can no longer be optional,” Rowland Shea said.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Tom Brown