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Estimates of water use associated with continuous oil and gas development in the Permian Basin, Texas and New Mexico, 2010–19

August 26, 2021

In 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey started a topical study to quantify water use in areas of continuous oil and gas (COG) development. The first phase of the study was completed in 2019 and analyzed the Williston Basin. The second phase of the study analyzed the Permian Basin using the same techniques and approaches used for the Williston Basin analysis. The Permian Basin was selected for the second phase of water-use analysis for the following reasons: (1) the basin has the largest undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resource in the United States, (2) the basin has a continuous resource in tight shale that primarily produces oil, and (3) the basin is within the contiguous United States. This study used data from 60 counties in Texas and New Mexico with spatial coverage based on the Permian Basin extent defined by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a representation of the geologically defined Permian Basin.

Data from several sources were used in the analysis of direct, indirect, and ancillary water use associated with COG development in the Permian Basin and are available in an associated data release. Hydraulic fracturing water-use data were used to determine the start of the recent (before 2019) COG development boom in oil production in the Permian Basin in the same way that the data were used for the Williston Basin study. Water-use data were aggregated by county and year, which were the sampling units used in the analysis.

The water-use analysis of the Permian Basin contained three elements: (1) estimates of water use, in million gallons, by county and year; (2) coefficients of water use from regression models, in million gallons per developed oil and gas well; and (3) performance (based on goodness-of-fit metrics) of the regression models in estimating the observed water use.

Coefficients from the linear and quantile regression models of direct, indirect, and ancillary water use in the Permian Basin were produced as aggregate values for the counties and years. The mean estimate of direct water use had a 95-percent confidence interval of 4.13–5.45 million gallons (Mgal) per developed oil and gas well. The coefficient from the linear regression model of indirect water use was 0.111 Mgal per well, with a 95-percent confidence interval of 0.104–0.117 Mgal per well. The mean estimate of ancillary water use in the Permian Basin was 1.09 Mgal per well, with a 95-percent confidence interval of 1.05–1.13 Mgal per well. Model performance was evaluated with goodness-of-fit metrics including coefficient of determination (R2), root mean square error, and the ratio of root mean square error to standard deviation of observations computed from leave-one-out cross validation of the linear and quantile regression models of direct, indirect, and ancillary water use. Model performance for direct water use was acceptable, with an R2 value of 0.91. The model performance of indirect water use was acceptable, with an R2 value of 0.89. Values of R2 for the ancillary water-use categories were at least 0.89.

Annual mean estimates for hydraulic fracturing, cementing, drilling, indirect, and ancillary water use per well for the years 2010–17 were comparable between the Permian and Williston Basins. Hydraulic fracturing water use increased similarly from 2010 to 2015 in the Permian Basin and the Williston Basin, increasing from 0.6 Mgal per well in 2010 to 5.4 Mgal per well in 2015 in the Permian Basin and from 1.4 Mgal per well in 2010 to 4.7 Mgal per well in 2015 in the Williston Basin.

By design, the Permian water-use assessment is a simplification of a complex and continually developing system and therefore has uncertainty and limitations in the interpretation of results. Despite the modeling limitations, the results summarized in the report, when compared to other studies, compare well with water-use estimations. The favorable comparison highlights the transferability of the water-use methodology to other areas of COG development.