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.
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.
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.
Compare that with North Dakota, which enjoys a $1.6 billion surplus and a 3.3 percent jobless rate. 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.
– Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business. He can be contacted at [email protected]