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Deep groundwater in Wind River and Bighorn basins could be key for the extractive industry future 

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The Wyoming State Geological Survey published a report that shows waters at certain depths near the Wind River and Bighorn basins are not fit for human and agriculture use; however, the research indicates the water could be used in the extractive industries.

The study focused on the groundwater salinity levels. Salinity is the concentration of salts, minerals and metals that are dissolved in water. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality uses it to determine if water should be used for humans, agriculture or industry.

Researchers found that at depths between 5,000 and 7,000 feet the Bighorn and Wind River groundwater has high saline levels – five times what is safe for humans. However, this is not a concern for the community, as most residential wells do not go deeper than 1,000 feet, said Karl Taboga, lead researcher on the report.

“In general, the deeper you go below the surface, the more saline the waters,” he said. “Some of these waters are many times saltier than seawater.”

Taboga said the water could be repurposed for the coal, oil and gas industries in the state, as an oil and gas well in Wyoming can require up to four million gallons of water for fracking.

“They may be able to use some of these saline waters either treated or untreated, and thereby can save the better quality water for domestic uses,” said Taboga.

Which could prove important. Instead of using water that is safe for humans and agriculture, the industries could use, or partly use, the high saline water, Taboga said. As the climate warms, studies show less water will be available for consumption and irrigation.

In a comment via email, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming said the higher saline water would be considered for use in future projects.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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