CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The same water flowing from faucets and shower heads in Cheyenne homes is being used for drilling oil wells.
Two companies that supply water to the oil industry have signed agreements allowing them to buy city water and fill their trucks from fire hydrants on the edge of town.
Meanwhile, the City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on zoning changes that would ease many of the requirements before the trucks can fill up on private property.
"The goal is basically to get the trucks off the street so that they're not simply parked on the side of the road, loading their trucks with water," city planner Matt Ashby said Tuesday.
At least a half-dozen oil wells are being drilled in the Cheyenne area and the state has permitted another 120 oil wells in that corner of the state. The rigs are targeting the Niobrara Shale, a formation nearly two miles deep that geologically resembles the booming Bakken Shale in western North Dakota.
Oil industry demand for water could take off in southeast Wyoming. Drilling an oil well can require 4 million gallons of water or more.
A technique called hydraulic fracturing involves pumping underground millions of gallons of water, plus sand and chemicals, to break open fissures and improve the flow of oil. Companies also sprinkle water on dirt roads to keep the dust down.
Problem is, southeast Wyoming doesn't have a lot of water. That leaves water hauling companies dealing left and right to use water from farm and ranch wells, said Harry LaBonde, deputy state engineer.
One reason they're doing that – and using city water – is because water wells in a large area east of town are tightly regulated to protect the aquifer, LaBonde said.
"It's not likely, in that process, that new water wells would be allowed for oil and gas production," he said.
He also pointed out that, with time, any water well drilled might end up being in a less-than-ideal location after new oil drilling moves elsewhere.
All deals for oil companies to use water from agricultural wells in the Laramie County Control Area east of Cheyenne must include an agreement not to draw more water from a well than was used previously, he said.
In Cheyenne, the city doesn't allow homeowners to water their lawns more than three times a week. They also pay more if their water use exceeds certain thresholds.
Likewise, the city's agreements with A&W Water Service and Aaron's Water Service limit them to no more than 6 million gallons a month, according to the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities. They must use designated hydrants with meters and backflow valves to prevent contaminating city water lines.
The city can turn off the spigot to water haulers if water demand is high and the city supply low.
The water hauling companies are paying $12.80 per 1,000 gallons, double the highest rate for the city's residential water users.