FARMINGTON — A study looking at water usage in 2010 found that the New Mexico oil and gas industry uses less than 1 percent of the total water used in the state.

The Western Energy Alliance released the “Oil and Natural Gas Exploration and Production Water Sources and Demand Study” in July.

The oil and gas industry in New Mexico used about 0.06 percent of water in the state, according to the study. Agriculture topped the list using about 79 percent of the state's water, and public water-use was second at 8 percent.

“In general, oil and gas water-use is relatively low compared to other industries. It's extremely low,” said Wally Drangmeister, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesperson.

The study, produced by Golder Associates from Lakewood, Colo., breaks down all water usage in New Mexico with data provided by New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. 

Oil and gas production water-use is included with mining operations. Mining as a whole used about 1.1 percent of the state's water. Within the mining percentage, oil and gas production used about 5.4 percent of the total, and when counted against the state's total consumption.

The news was welcomed by WPX Energy, said company spokeswoman Susan Alvillar. She said WPX has made improvements in recent years to make more efficient use of water in the San Juan Basin.

Water is used in drilling to keep drilling bits lubricated and in fracturing the rock formation, the process known as “fracking.” 

About 1,200 barrels of water are used to drill and frack a well that penetrates between 4,000 and 5,000 feet vertically and about 4,000 feet horizontally. When the rig begins to drill, Alvillar said, the water is used to form
mud. The mud is composed of dirt and other materials to keep the bit lubricated.

When fracking begins, she said, they use mostly nitrogen foam to frack the rock formation. The fracking mixture is about 70 percent nitrogen and 30 percent water.

As the well begins to produce oil, brackish water is also produced, she said, which is recycled and reused.
“We recycle nearly all our water,” she said.

Drangmeister said companies are benefiting from recycling water.

“There is great incentive to use produced water. We don't have truck water. It takes an investment, but they are using more and more produced water in hydraulic fracturing,” he said.

The study also looked at water usage in other states like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and North Dakota.

“To engage in a constructive dialogue on water management and to make sound public policy, we must start with a baseline understanding,” said Jack Ekstrom, president of the Western Energy Alliance, in a release. “This report breaks ground by offering a serious and sober analysis of the data.”

Erny Zah is The Daily Times business editor. He can be reached at 505-564-4638.and Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.