On Wednesday, the Culberson County Groundwater Conservation District voted on the Agua Grande project, a brainchild of Dan Allen Hughes. The West Texas board voted unanimously to approve the project.
The Agua Grande project intends to drill into the Capitan Reef desert aquifer on Hughes’ 140,000-acre Apache Ranch near the small town of Van Horn, TX. Van Horn sits about 120 miles east of El Paso on Interstate 10 and has a population of slightly over 2,000 residents.
Agua Grande will consist of seven wells on Apache Ranch and will eventually have a 60-mile pipeline that leads northeast into the Permian’s Delaware Basin. The pipeline will pump up to 5.4 million gallons of water a day into the heart of the country’s shale operations.
Hydraulic fracturing demands large amounts of water, using nearly 30 billion gallons last year. IHS Markit, an energy research firm, thinks that the water demand will double by the end of this year.
Blaine Saathoff, both the chief operations officer and a petroleum engineer at Dan A. Hughes Company, listened as roughly 50 local residents spent an hour pleading their case to the board yesterday. After the board deliberated for an hour and a half, Saathoff commented on the vote’s outcome, “We’ve dug our heels in for six months. We’re very excited.”
Many locals are against the planned wells and pipelines. Environmentalists, ranchers, and farmers have been protesting Hughes’ application since the start. Their argument states that the Agua Grande project will steal water from cattle and crops and possibly dry up the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park, a famous tourist attraction. Protesters also plan to take Dan Hughes to court to stop Agua Grande from proceeding.
Dan Allen Hughes owns large amounts of land in Texas and Montana, over 390,000 acres total. Now he runs his father’s San Antonio-based oil firm, the Dan A. Hughes Company, and has operations all over the world, concentrating mainly in South Texas. In 1956, Hughes Sr. spud his first well in the Salazar Yates Oil Field near Carlsbad, NM while he was in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Bliss, TX.
Hughes first submitted an application to the Culberson Country Groundwater Conservation District in March of this year. Drilling his wells didn’t require a permit, but building the pipeline to the Permian Basin and pumping the water out did.
Agua Grande construction will begin by the end of the year and should be pumping water by the second quarter 2018. Dan A. Hughes Co. will also start a voluntary well monitoring program to make sure the aquifer stays within safe levels.
Many Permian Basin players are interested in the project, including: Anadarko Petroleum, EOG Resources, and Concho Resources just to name a few.
Van Horn is just one case in the beginning of a coming water war in arid West Texas. Fracking in the Permian Basin will continuously demand more and more water through the coming years.
Article written by HEI contributor Raymond Arrasmith.