The state of Coahuila receives little more than 300 millimeters of rain annually (12 inches). So much water is being pumped in two farm regions near Cuatro Ciénegas to irrigate crops and care for livestock that not early enough is left to supply the pools and marshes. With every passing year, the desert claims more land, more ponds, and more streams that used to be wet.Photo © Janet Jarman/Circle of Blue.
Day 7 of our on-going article excerpts. Check out the blog again tomorrow for more, or head straight to our website for the remainder of the article.
Water Scarcity Could Deter Energy Developers From Crossing Border Into Northern Mexico
by Keith Schneider
A Ban on Groundwater Use For New Energy
According to Carlos Gutiérrez Ojeda, head of the groundwater division of the Mexican Institute of Water Technology, that leaves energy development companies with several other options for securing adequate supplies of water for fracking.
The first and easiest, said Ojeda in an interview, is for energy developers to buy existing groundwater use permits from farmers, industry, or other users.
Other options, he said, include:
- Discovering and tapping new aquifers that lie deeper than known groundwater reserves. The deeper groundwater sources, if they exist at all, are likely to contain high levels of salt and minerals that will need to be treated. National water authorities are likely to issue permits to tap those brackish groundwater supplies, which are not currently used by cities, farms, or industry.
- Recycling and treating wastewater from municipal and industrial treatment plants. That potential supply, though, is at least 80 percent less than what the energy industry is likely to need. An important consequence of using treated municipal wastewater is that this water supply is now discharged to streams and rivers. Thus, capturing this water could have the effect of reducing flows to streams, which could harm aquatic ecosystems and downstream water users.
- Pumping water from the Gulf of Mexico and transporting it hundreds of kilometers in new pipelines to the drilling zones. Seawater is too salty for fracking using current technology. Some desalination capacity would need to be constructed near the sea, or at the other end of the pipe close to the drilling zones.
Summed up, if Mexico enforces its proposed ban on issuing drillers permits for existing groundwater sources, the industry’s water demand can only be met by uncertain and expensive supplies. “There are big questions that need to be answered,” said Ojeda. “We are looking closely at what could happen. Conagua says no groundwater will be used for fracking. Water must come from some other source. That’s what the authorities said.”
Among industry executives and government authorities charged with promoting job growth, though, the scale of what’s possible with shale development in Coahuila, and the potential investment treasure chest that it could open, overwhelms other considerations — for understandable reasons.