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Water Rights and The Oil & Gas Industry

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Photo of a river

Water Rights Ownership as it relates to Fracking

Many landowners have questions about water rights. Most of these questions center around ownership and the demands on water by the oil and gas industry to frack wells. Fracking injects high pressure volumes of water, sand, and chemicals into existing wells to unlock natural gas and oil. In other words, the rock is fractured to access the otherwise unreachable deposits.

This article goes over a few facts about water rights ownership as it relates to the oil and gas industry.

Types of Water

There are two main sources of onshore water that are able to meet the water supply needs demanded by communities in the United States:

Ground water

Ground water is extracted or produced by drilling a well. Ground water can either be privately owned or publicly owned. Most privately owned groundwater is owned by the surface owner, not the mineral owner. Whether the surface owner drills the water well themselves or contracts with a company to drill a water well, production limits can still be set by state regulatory agencies. Ground water owned by the State (such as Wyoming) is usually allocated based on meeting needs of a community and/or prioritized by beneficial use (agriculture, biological, commercial, etc.)  

Surface water

Surface water, such as rivers, streams and lakes, is owned by the states for the benefit of the public. In many cases, owners of the adjoining surface may be allowed to use water in rivers, streams and lakes, but not own it.

  • FracFocus reported that most of the water used for fracking comes from rivers, lakes (surface water) and municipal suppliers.

  • Bluefield Research reports that spend on water supply, transport, treatment, storage, and disposal has increased 12% per year from $11.74 billion to $15.49 billion by the close of 2019. They also predict that water management spend for hydraulic fracturing is forecasted to average US$17 billion per year from 2019 through 2028.

  • As reported by the USGS, fracking by US oil and gas companies can use 1.5 to 9.7 million gallons of water in a single operation. However, this only accounts for less than 1% of America's total industrial water use according to a paper published by researchers at Duke University. FracFocus is reporting the same findings as shown below: 

Can I lease my water rights?

Yes, landowners can lease water rights! Anyone who is 'downstream' may be interested in leasing your water rights. Landowners can list their water rights for lease or for sale on LandGate's marketplace for free.


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