Assessment of water resources and the potential effects from oil and gas development in the Bureau of Land Management Tri-County planning area, Sierra, Doña Ana, and Otero Counties, New Mexico

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5151
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, conducted a study to assess the water resources and potential effects on the water resources from oil and gas development in the Tri-County planning area, Sierra, Doña Ana, and Otero Counties, New Mexico. Publicly available data were used to assess these resources and effects and to identify data gaps in the Tri-County planning area.

The Tri-County planning area includes approximately 9.3 million acres and is within the eastern extent of the Basin and Range Province, which consists of mountain ranges and low elevation basins. Three specific areas of interest within the Tri-County planning area are the Jornada del Muerto, Tularosa Basin, and Otero Mesa, which is adjacent to the Salt Basin. Surface-water resources are limited in the Tri-County planning area, with the Rio Grande as the main perennial river flowing from north to south through Sierra and Doña Ana Counties. The Tularosa Creek is an important surface-water resource in the Tularosa Basin. The Sacramento River, which flows southeast out of the Sacramento Mountains, is an important source of recharge to aquifers in the Salt Basin. Groundwater resources vary in aquifer type, depth to water, and water quality. For example, the Jornada del Muerto, Tularosa Basin, and Salt Basin each have shallow and deep aquifer systems, and water can range from freshwater, with less than 1,000 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of total dissolved solids, to brine, with greater than 35,000 mg/L of total dissolved solids. Water quality in the Tri-County planning area is affected by the dissolution of salt deposits and evaporation which are common in arid regions such as southern New Mexico.

The potential for oil and gas development exists in several areas within the Tri-County area. As many as 81 new conventional wells and 25 coalbed natural gas wells could be developed by 2035. Conventional oil and gas well construction in the Tri-County planning area is expected to require 1.53 acre-feet (acre-ft) (500,000 gallons) of water per well, similar to requirements in the nearby Permian Basin of New Mexico, while construction of unconventional wells is expected to require 7.3 acre-ft of water per well. Produced waters in the Permian Basin have high total dissolved solids, in the brackish to brine range.

Data gaps identified in this study include the limited detailed data on surface-water resources, the lack of groundwater data in areas of interest, and the lack of water chemistry data related to oil and gas development issues. Surface waters in the Tri-County planning area are sparse; some streams are perennial, and most are ephemeral. A more detailed study of the ephemeral channels and their interaction with groundwater could provide a better understanding of the importance of these surface-water resources. Groundwater data used in this study are from the USGS National Water Information System, which does not have continuous water-level depth data at many of the sites in the Tri-County planning area. On Otero Mesa, no recurrent groundwater-level data are available at any one site. The water-quality data compiled in this study provide a good overview of the general chemistry of groundwater in the Tri-County planning area. To fully understand the groundwater resources, it would be helpful to have more wells in specific areas of interest for groundwater-level and water-quality measurements.

Suggested Citation

Blake, J.M., Miltenberger, Keely, Stewart, Anne, Ritchie, Andre, Montoya, Jennifer, Durr, Corey, McHugh, Amy, and Charles, Emmanuel, 2018, Assessment of water resources and the potential effects from oil and gas development in the Bureau of Land Management Tri-County planning area, Sierra, Doña Ana, and Otero Counties, New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5151, 87 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175151.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Purpose and Scope
  • Methods
  • Physical Characteristics of the Tri-County Planning Area
  • General Stratigraphic and Hydrogeologic Framework in Areas of Interest
  • Hydrologic Assessment
  • Assessment of Potential Effects on Water Resources from Oil and Gas Development in the Tri-County Planning Area
  • Data Gaps Identified and Suggestions for Further Study
  • Summary
  • References

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Assessment of water resources and the potential effects from oil and gas development in the Bureau of Land Management Tri-County planning area, Sierra, Doña Ana, and Otero Counties, New Mexico
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2017-5151
DOI 10.3133/sir20175151
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New Mexico Water Science Center
Description Report: x, 87 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State New Mexico
County Doña Ana County, Otero County, Sierra County
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y