Tradeoffs in using water – keep 57 golf courses green for a year or produce 2 billion barrels of oil

I’ve read that it takes millions of gallons of water and perhaps 2,000 visits from a truck in order to drill a well.  Finally came across something that puts that in perspective.

Let’s look at the water used to drill a well in terms of tradeoff.  What else could we do with the water we use to drill and frack a well?

Looking only at the water input, with the same amount of water we could:

  • Irrigate 57 golf courses in Palm Springs for one year, or
  • Drill 4,161 wells in North Dakota that will produce 2.2 billion barrels of oil over the next 3 decades (4,161 wells as calculated below x expected lifetime product of 540,000 barrels per well)

The Economist has a 14 page special report on natural gas in their July 14 edition: An unconventional bonanza. I discussed that previously here.

The article Sorting frack from fiction, puts the water and truck traffic in perspective.

Consider this for water:

A shale well does use a lot of water—an average of up to 22m litres (5m gallons) over its lifetime—but this is no more than a golf course in Florida consumes in three weeks, according to one estimate. Most of that water stays in the well, but 20% returns to the surface as flow-back in the days and weeks after fracking. This must be stored and disposed of or recycled safely. Still, the MIT report points out that shale-gas extraction uses less water than other industries, and indeed than other sources of energy. In America’s big shale fields it gets through much less water than local mines or local livestock.

The lifetime water needs of one shale well is comparable to what a golf course in Florida uses in three weeks.

I did a very brief internet search and found this info:

From Water-Thirsty Golf Courses Need to Go Green, by Frank Deford:

Audubon International estimates that the average American course uses 312,000 gallons per day. In a place like Palm Springs, where 57 golf courses challenge the desert, each course eats up a million gallons a day. That is, each course each day in Palm Springs consumes as much water as an American family of four uses in four years.

Those stats suggest a typical well uses water equal to what it takes to water a typical golf course for 16 days (5M / 312k).  Water for one shale well would water a Palm Springs golf course for 5 days (5M / 1M).

Or, the water to keep those courses in Palm Springs pretty for a year would be enough to drill 4,161 wells (57 courses x 1M g/d x 365 days/year / 5m for a well). In the last 12 months, there has been an increase of 1,582 producing wells in North Dakota.  That’s an average of 132 new wells coming into production per month, so the water for those Palm Springs courses in a year would provide water for about 31 months of drilling in North Dakota.

These two items use the same amount of water

  • 57 golf courses in Palm Spring in one year – that is 1,026 holes for a year
  • 31 months of drilling in North Dakota – that is 4,161 wells for the next 30 years of production

Phrased differently, all the drilling in North Dakota for a year uses less water than the golf courses in Palm Springs use in a year.

Golf Course Water Supply by Ground Water Resources & Investment says the typical golf course in the U.S. irrigates 95 acres of land. The article then says:

The volume of water required to irrigate 95 acres on a per annum basis is approximately ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION (150,000,000) gallons, based upon average Water Management District permitted use allocations. Up to now, the primary sources of irrigation water have been vertical wells and surface water impoundments in lakes within a golf course.

On an average-day basis, 450,000 to 500,000 gallons per day (gpd) are utilized for golf course irrigation, but a peak day requirement can be more than 600,000 gpd.

Using their numbers, it takes the average golf course 12 days to use as much water as one fracked site (5m / (150m/365). One average golf course uses enough water in a year to provide for 30 wells (150m/5m).

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