How much water is in the Missouri River compared to the water needed to drill the wells in North Dakota?

Let’s put the water needs of fracking a well into perspective.

The water needed to drill the wells in North Dakota is equal to two minutes of each day’s volume of water in the Missouri river flowing past Bismarck.

My source is a Bismarck Tribune from two years ago: Hoeven, delegation upset with corps’ plans for Lake Sakakawea.

“The amounts of water at issue are miniscule,” the delegation said in the letter to Darcy. “High-end estimates are that full development of the state’s oil fields would require 1,800 new wells drilled per year, at a total of 4 million gallons of water each.”This totals about 60 acre-feet of water per day, compared to the approximately 40,000 acre-feet of Missouri River water that passes through Bismarck-Mandan each day.

Let’s work with that.

An acre foot of water is the volume needed to cover one acre of land one foot deep. According to Wikipedia, that is 325,851 gallons.

So 4 million gallons of water is 12.27 acre feet (4M / 325,851).

Then 1,800 wells would be 22,086 acre feet per year (1,800 x 12.2 acre feet).  That would be 60.5 acre feet per day (22,086 /365).

The Missouri has 40,000 acre feet flowing past Bismarck each day.

That means all the wells in North Dakota would take up 0.15% of the water in the Missouri. That’s just over one-tenth of one percent.

I’m an accountant, so I can’t stop there.

  • If you could divert all the water flowing past Bismarck at once, it would take 2.2 minutes of the water flow each day to supply the wells.
  • One well would take up 26 seconds of the water flowing past Bismarck.
  • The water passing Bismarck each day would be enough to drill 3,260 wells (40,000 / 12.27).
  • Let’s assume that every well that is in production today had been fracked with 4 million gallons of water. How would that compare to the flow of the Missouri? In May 2012 there were 6,954 producing wells in the state. At 4M gallons each, that would be 85,325 acre feet ( 6,954 x 12.27 acre feet each ).  That would be equal to all the water flowing past Bismarck in 51 hours (85,325 / 40000 * 24).

Four million gallons per well sounds like a huge amount of water. Then I compare it to the thirst of a golf course and it doesn’t seem like so much. Compare it to how much water is flowing in the Missouri River, and it sounds even smaller.

I previously put into perspective the truck traffic needed to drill a well.

(hat tip Mission Dollar Way. Mr. Oksol seems to have taken down the post after it appeared in my RSS feed.)

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