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Study finds fracking for natural gas saves water

by: Zack Ponce for Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M.

CARLSBAD — The Permian Basin, which stretches from West Texas into Southeast New Mexico, was one of the first proving grounds for the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

The recent economic boom in the area can be attributed to the growth of the oil and gas industry, which produced 1,405.2 trillion British thermal units of natural gas in 2011 in the state of New Mexico according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Proponents of the method in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped at high pressure into a well to fracture surrounding rocks and allow oil or gas to more easily flow received some validation from a recent study produced by the University of Texas.

Three to 5 million gallons of water can be used to frack a single well, according to Exploreshale.org, a public service media project by Penn State Public Broadcasting.

In the study done by the University of Texas, researchers found that coal-based power plants use 25 to 50 times more water than the amount used by natural gas-powered plants. The reason was due to the reduced water amount used by the fracking process to extract gas from shale as compared to the method of coal extraction.

The study, which focused on the Texas only, suggested that hydraulic fracturing was the best option to balance the state’s increasing energy demands with the decreasing amount of water.

For New Mexico, a state that has experienced a drought for the last three years, the results could mean an increase in fracking across the state — or at least the continuance of a pro-fracking policy in the southeast.

There are several coal-based plants in Northwestern New Mexico but environmental groups have fought to keep fracking out of the northern part of the state.

Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway, a supporter of the technology, thinks Eddy County should continue down its current path.

“Fracking is a proven safe process that has been in use for a long time,” he said in a written release. “Now it is essential in reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

“If done properly, fracking can be the vehicle that drives the economic recovery and long-term growth for our country. We need to move forward.”

According to a news release from the university, the researchers estimate that in 2011 alone, Texas would have consumed an additional 32 billion gallons of water — enough to supply 870,000 average residents — if all its natural gas-fired power plants were instead coal-fired plants, even after factoring in the additional consumption of water for hydraulic fracturing to extract the natural gas. ___

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