A review of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s most recent oil and gas leasing data found that more than 60 percent of leases in the American West are in water-stressed areas, potentially threatening the quality of water of farmers and local communities, according to a new analysis from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive policy institute.
“The expansion of fossil fuel development on U.S. public lands could endanger the quantity and quality of water that is available to farmers, towns, and other water users in the region,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, author of the analysis and a senior policy analyst for public lands at CAP.
In Nevada, 1,050 of 1,122 leases—almost 97 percent—were offered in areas of “high” or “extremely high” water stress. Nevada had the second-highest percentage of leases in water-stressed areas, second only to New Mexico at 96 percent.
Wyoming—with more than 1,400 federal leases—had the third-highest percentage of leases in “high” or “extremely high” water-stressed areas at 63 percent.
While policymakers and cities in Western states are working to reduce their water footprint, oil and gas exploration and production continues to grow unscrutinized. The oil and gas industry often requires millions of gallons of water to drill and produce oil from a single well, putting significant strain on water supplies, reads the study
Since the start of the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management has awarded more than 5,550 oil and gas leases in the Intermountain West, according to the findings. And of these leases, more than 6 in 10 were in areas suffering from “high” or “extremely high” water stress, as defined by the World Resources Institute.
Local officials in rural cities have pushed back against oil and gas leasing out of fear to the risk of the city of Mesquite’s water supply, going so far as to unanimously pass a resolution opposing oil and gas leases in the region.
Both Henderson Mayor Debra March and Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick have likewise warned about the potential threat that upcoming lease sales could pose to the region’s drinking water.
An analysis by CAP earlier this year found that there is little information related to the amount of water energy development uses and that the Bureau of Land Management has not developed proper guidance on how to take water impacts into consideration for oil and gas leasing decisions.
The review recommends stronger laws including a new Senate bill that would direct the U.S. Geological Survey to track the water used for energy development for an accurate and picture on energy development’s effects on water.