Facing Severe Droughts, Ranchers Are Resorting to Using Fracking Water to Save Their LandUsing a patent-pending cleaning process, a Wyoming comp...Facing Severe Droughts, Ranchers Are Resorting to Using Fracking Water to Save Their Land
Using a patent-pending cleaning process, a Wyoming company hopes to water ranchlands with the notoriously nasty byproduct from oil and gas wells
A Patterson-UTI drilling rig operating for Ultra Petroleum Resources in the Pinedale Anticline natural gas field, in Sublette County, near Pinedale, Wy. The PInedale Anticline is one of the highest producing gas fields in the United States. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling at depths of 5,000 to 20,000 feet releases the gas.
Photo: William Campbell/Corbis/Getty Images
When people think about fracking, most think about fossil fuels. But Wyoming rancher Owen Goertz, 70, thinks about water. Specifically, the approximately 5,000 to 8,000 barrels a day of fracking byproduct water that is currently produced on his land. For the last 30 years, Goertz has leased out oil and gas rights on his 10,000-acre ranch. Those wells have pumped countless barrels of oil, as well as all that water, which is piped away by the oil company and disposed of, unused, while he grapples with relentless drought conditions that make it difficult to feed his cows and keep his family ranch afloat.
Not anymore. This spring, for the first time, Goertz plans to reclaim, clean up, and reuse that water to irrigate his ranchlands.
He and his partners hope this project will not only return much-needed water to his land, but give cattle ranchers in the arid west a better chance of surviving climate change. In addition to finding an environmentally positive use for this otherwise wasted water, reclaiming fracking fluid has the potential to reshape the expensive disposal process that the oil and gas industry relies on now.
Wyoming is the fifth-driest state in the nation and is currently experiencing severe to extreme drought levels. The situation is expected to worsen as the climate crisis continues. Goertz is working with the startup Encore Green Environmental, a company that claims to be the first to hold permits to reclaim water from fracked wells for agricultural irrigation.
While Goertz sees a lot of potential for progress, it must be noted that the oil and gas industry is of course a major contributor to climate change. As environmental groups opposed to such projects point out, the climate crisis is the reason drought-stricken ranchers like Goertz are desperate for more water in the first place.