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State Officials: Oklahoma Needs Oil Industry’s Help To Meet Water Goals

Joe Wertz
StateImpact Oklahoma

Insufficient rains and increasing demand put enormous pressure on Oklahoma’s water resources both on the surface and underground. But it’s also hard to overstate the role evaporation plays in the drought.

The oil and gas industry has been part of the problem, storing tens of millions of gallons of water needed for the hydraulic fracturing process in large, open pits, leaving it to be ravaged by evaporation until the water is needed.

As The Oklahoman‘s Adam Wilmoth reports, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board’s J.D. Strong says the industry has to change its ways “to help the state meet its Water for 2060 goal of using no more water in 2060 as was used in 2012.”

“All the things the industry can do to use every drop of water as wisely as possible will certainly help the state further that goal,” Strong said. “Anything that can be done to reduce or eliminate evaporation, especially the further west you go, would be an extremely valuable asset.” In some parts of western Oklahoma, Texas and the desert Southwest, more water is lost to evaporation each year than can be replenished with rain, Strong said.

Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. is taking a new approach to addressing the evaporation issue: it’s covering its water pits.

In one area of the Permian basin, Devon has covered 24 of its 39 water pits. The company is considering implementing the technology in western Oklahoma as it expands operations in the area. “We were struggling to come up with the water to meet our fracking demand,” [Tim Raley, senior superintendent for Devon's operations in its east Permian Basin area] says. “We didn’t want to lose any of it to Mother Nature.”

It’s the kind of move state water officials want to encourage, but covering water pits is by no means cheap, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars each according to the paper. However, Devon Energy can take solace in the millions of dollars it will save in the long-term.

The covers cost $150,000 to $350,000, depending on their size, but pay for themselves in just two to four months, [Raley said]. The pits hold 12 million to 30 million gallons of water. By reducing evaporation, each cover can save 4 million to 10 million gallons of water per quarter, Raley said. “It saves a lot on our water demand. If we could save that from evaporation, it’s money in our pocket.”

In this case, conservation is good not only for the state’s limited water resources, but for Devon’s bottom line as well.


StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma. Logan spent six years as a reporter with StateImpact from 2011 to 2017.
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