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Bob Shaver, director of the Water Appropriation Division for the State Water Commission. (MIKE McCLEARY/Tribune)

Dodge, a quiet hamlet in Dunn County away from the throb of oil drilling further west, could become a daily destination for 240 semi-trucks when a new tap gets opened there in June.

The tankers will fill up at a depot a half-mile south of town and head back out to the oil field, where the millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemicals, is injected into oil wells in pressurized treatments that fracture the oil formation.

The water should help quench the thirst of an industry that consumes the equivalent of a small river every day.

It’s projected the industry will use as much as 5.5 billion gallons of water a year for up to two decades to fully develop the Bakken formation at the rate of about 2,000 additional oil wells every year. In Dunn County, the annual demand for water will ramp up to about 1 billion gallons.

That’s a lot of water and where it comes from makes a difference.

All but a small portion of that daily “river” now comes from groundwater.

Bob Shaver, chief of water allocations for the State Water Commission, says instead of groundwater, he’d like to see the industry use more depots like the one planned at Dodge, which will tap off the Southwest Water Pipeline.

“The real issue right now is groundwater,” Shaver says. “Although some is used for oil industry, there’s no way (it can fill the gap).”

The pipeline draws off Lake Sakakawea, one of the largest water impoundments in the country.

Even 5.5 billion gallons from a source that big “is a drop in the bucket,” Shaver says.

He’d rather see industry tap the lake, because underground aquifers are stressed and declining every year.

In Dunn County, there are four industrial water permits from the Killdeer aquifer, each permit with an annual allocation.

Because of intense oil drilling and numerous fracture jobs in the county, the allocations started running out in October last year.

This year, they’ll run out in June, Shaver says.

Even though a trip to Dodge for water will add time and expense, companies that supply water to the oil field may not have another option.

The pipeline authority will supply the water to the Dodge depot site and a partnership of Missouri Basin Well Services and Power Fuels will build and operate the depot.

Each will have a dedicated pump and a third one will be available to other truckers, says Tim Frieje, pipeline project manager.

That will about use up the pipeline’s capacity.

“That’s the majority that’s left,” Frieje says. “If there’s somebody else who wants 1,000 gallons per minute (going to Dodge), they probably won’t get it.”

Getting more lake water into the oil field will require building more intakes from the lake.

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That involves a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Shaver said he’s concerned about how long that will take.

Lake manager Phil Brown said he’s working with two parties, one of them Texas-based International Western Co., which is applying for 18,000 acre feet from one or more intakes on the west end of the lake in the area of Lund’s Landing.

Brown said the corps has been steering the potential intake sites away from environmentally sensitive locations to simplify the process. He said both parties have been working on an application packet.

“The less they do on corps’ land, the less the regulations,” Brown says. “If there’s impact from trenching, roads, depot construction, that will take time, months at a minimum.”

Depending on location and scope, the permits might involve other agencies, such as the Three Affiliated Tribes, State Game and Fish Department and the National Fish and Wildlife Service.

Brown said while there is interest in industrial water permits — the corps recently converted one irrigation permit to industrial for the oil field — he hasn’t seen full-blown pressure.

“I suspect they (industry) are getting their needs met,” he said. “We’re not getting overwhelmed.”

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-748-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.)

The Changing Landscape

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