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- An expanding oil fracturing industry is the anxious buyer of the supplemental well water — all they can get in a parched, dry environment where water is scarce, as are the opportunities to make a dollar off the land.
Some wells running dry
In addition to those reports, at least a dozen well owners in the Carlsbad area are claiming augmentation wells operated by the State Streams Commission are pumping large amounts of water out of the aquifer, forcing their wells to dry up. They are asking the commission for compensation.
The commission confirms they have pumped water out of these augmentation wells, which are designed to provide relief for farmers in drought years, but say only a few private wells have been adversely affected.
As drought conditions worsen all across New Mexico and water becomes more scarce, problems like those in Eddy County are multiplying for farmers, industry, municipal water departments and irrigation water districts. State water officials say the only hope is the annual monsoon season in New Mexico's mountain ranges, scheduled to get under way this month and potentially lasting well into August.
Houghton reports about a quarter inch of rain fell in the Carlsbad area earlier this week, but in times of severe drought, like now, every drop counts.
"We can only hope for rain at this point," he says. "In the meantime, as we look to the future, new technologies may provide some hope."
He says he has talked to researchers who are working on compressing natural gas and carbon dioxide (CO2) to a liquid form, which could be used instead of water by fracking companies. As fracking for oil expands not only in New Mexico but nationwide, such technology could eliminate the need to use water as part of the process.
"Fracking uses a lot of water," he says.
While water is scarce in New Mexico, Houghton points out that expanded oil and gas operations in Eddy and surrounding counties have been good for the local economy at a time when all the help they can get is welcome.
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