Oil and water can coexist | Don Brunell

There’s an old saying that oil and water don’t mix. That may be true, but apparently they coexist quite well.


There’s an old saying that oil and water don’t mix. That may be true, but apparently they coexist quite well.

Traveling through Sweetwater in west Texas, you see an interesting mix of irrigated farming, cattle ranching, oil production and wind energy.

Farmers draw water from wells to irrigate fields and provide drinking water for people and livestock. Scattered across those same fields are traditional oil wells that have been pumping crude since 1921.

Less than 10 miles from Sweetwater is the Roscoe Wind Farm — 627 wind turbines standing in irrigated cotton and hay fields, wheat fields, and cattle pastures. The $1 billion project is one of the world’s largest wind farms with a capacity of 781.5 MW — enough to power 250,000 homes.

Texans say this shows that clean water, renewable energy and oil production can coexist. It’s a matter of geology. Water wells average about 600 feet deep while traditional crude oil is extracted from 2,500 to 8,500 feet beneath the surface. Fracking occurs even further down.

Texas is experiencing a new oil boom. Oil production has doubled since 2005, and it’s poised to double again by 2020. More than 250,000 Texans work in the oil and gas industry earning an average of $100,000 a year.

While much of Sweetwater’s success has come from traditional oil wells, future prosperity may come from fracking. The area is home to the massive Cline Formation, a 9,800 square mile reservoir of shale oil 9,500 feet beneath the surface — more than a mile an half below the water table.

Based on their experience, Texans believe they can use fracking to extract new oil while protecting farmland and water supplies.

In contrast to the Texas oil boom, oil production in California is down 21 percent since 2001. This is not because California is running out of oil. To the contrary, California has huge offshore reserves and an estimated 15 billion barrels of shale oil in a deposit southeast of San Francisco.

But shale oil is recoverable only through hydraulic fracking, and California has banned the practice. Despite its 9 percent unemployment rate and heavy debt load, California has locked away billions of dollars in oil reserves.

Compare that with North Dakota, which enjoys a $1.6 billion surplus and a 3.3 percent jobless rate. Industry experts now say the region’s Bakken Formation and Three Forks Formation hold up to 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil, 6.7 trillion feet of and 530 million barrels of natural gas liquids — a three-fold increase over estimates just five years ago.

So what’s the point?

Thanks to new drilling techniques and technology, we can now safely recover billions of barrels of oil that were previously out of reach. With our national debt set to pass $17 trillion, energy production is a way to put Americans back to work, fund essential government programs and chip away at our horrendous national debt.

The International Energy Agency says the U.S. could become the world’s largest oil producer in the second half of this decade and could be nearly self-sufficient by 2035.

Oil and natural gas account for 1.7 million family-wage jobs and is projected to grow to 3 million by the end of this decade and to 3.5 million by 2035. Shale energy development has already contributed nearly $62 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues and could generate another $2.5 trillion by 2035.


The bottom line is oil and natural gas wells can safely coexist alongside farming and drinking water supplies. We can have a healthy environment and economic prosperity if we insist that our government allow exploration and extraction to occur.


About the Author

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. Formed in 1904, AWB is Washington’s oldest and largest statewide business association, and includes more than 8,000 members representing 700,000 employees. AWB serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. While its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, 90 percent of AWB members employ fewer than 100 people. More than half of AWB’s members employ fewer than 10. For more about AWB, visit www.awb.org.