Alfonso Gonzalez stands on his ranch, near Cuatro Ciénegas in Mexico’s Coahuila state. Gonzalez is a cattle farmer who actively participates in conservation initiatives around Cuatro Cienegas. In one effort, a well on his property (named Poza Escobedo, pictured) was restored to its original state, leading the area around it to regenerate its humidity and lush flora and fauna.
Day 4 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
High Water Consumption
Maybe. Not nearly enough of Coahuila’s planning for energy development has included the industry’s demand for water. Conservation technology and new drilling practices have reduced water use in the Texas Eagle Ford region. Texas state authorities report that fracking is responsible for 2 percent of total state water use. It still requires, however, enormous quantities of water to develop shale oil and gas. A study by the University of Texas in 2011 found that water demand for fracking in the most heavily drilled Eagle Ford counties amounts to 30 to 50 percent of all water use in those counties.
A newer study by Texas A&M University last year reported that hydraulic fracturing in the Eagle Ford used 620 million cubic meters of groundwater annually. Aquifers in the region were being drawn down at a rate 2.5 times faster than their recharge rates. (A cubic meter of water is 264 gallons.)
Alfonso Gonzalez is a cattle farmer who actively participates in conservation initiatives around Cuatro Ciénegas. In one effort, a pond on his property was restored to its original state, leading the area around it to regenerate humidity and lush flora and fauna. Photo © Janet Jarman/Circle of Blue.
If developers used the same amount of water for fracking a comparable number of wells in northern Mexico as they do in Texas, that amounts to nearly a third of the 1.96 billion cubic meters of water currently used each year for all purposes in Coahuila, according to Conagua, the national water commission.
At least a measure of the economic and ecological distress over water that could await Coahuila is already evident in the 350 kilometers (217 miles) of desert between Piedras Negras and Cuatro Ciénegas, a small city of 12,000 residents that was once the hub of a lush oasis of spring-fed pools and marshes.
Piedras Negras and Coahuila’s other cities use 186 million cubic meters of water annually, most of it drawn from aquifers, according to Conagua.
On the outskirts of Piedra Negras, along Federal Highway 57D, lies a portion of the state’s big manufacturing plants for vehicles and steel. Not far away are the mines that produce 13 million metric tons of coal a year, almost all of the coal produced in Mexico. Much of it is consumed by the two big coal-fired power plants in Nava. Ninety percent of Coahuila’s electricity comes from coal-powered plants; 98 percent from all fossil fuels. The result is that electricity generation uses 75 million cubic meters of water annually, a little more than the 73 million cubic meters needed for industry, says Conagua.
South of Nava is a farming region. Agriculture is the largest water consumer in Coahuila, using 1.62 billion cubic meters annually, or 82 percent of the state’s annual water demand.
Most of the trip between Piedras Negras and Cuatro Ciénegas, though, is swallowed by Chihuahuan Desert that encompasses the Burgos and Sabinas basins, the regions targeted for oil and gas development. Pemex has drilled six test wells in the two basins. Production results suggest that the shale is capable of producing marketable quantities of gas and oil.