Fracking Companies Clash with Grain Shippers and Army Corps of Engineers over Use of Missouri River Water

Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Mississippi River (photo: Robert Ray, AP)

The continuing drought of 2012—which has created abnormally dry conditions over 80% of the contiguous U.S.—may soon prevent barge traffic from navigating the critical 180-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between the confluences of the Missouri River near St. Louis and the Ohio River at Cairo, Ill., along which river depth is 15 to 20 feet less than normal. At the same time, oil companies conducting fracking operations in North Dakota are demanding immense quantities of Missouri River water be diverted to them, further threatening levels on the Mississippi.


Experts predict the river could close to barges in mid-December and remain that way for two months, just as the harvest heads to market via river barges, and fertilizer shipments head north. According to the trade group American Waterways Operators, closing the Middle Mississippi for the next two months would impede the transport of $7 billion worth of products including 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion; 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion; 1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth $1.3 billion; 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million; and 3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million. Finding alternative transportation will be costly, with consumers eventually footing the bill.


To make matters worse, last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began reducing the outflow from a Missouri River dam in South Dakota, intending to cut the flow at least two-thirds by December 11 as a way to ease the local effects of the drought. Absent a freak hurricane over the northern Mississippi River valley, that reduction in water flow will ensure a closure of the Middle Mississippi. Given the economic impact, legislators from Mississippi River states are angry over the Corps’ action and even asked the White House for a presidential emergency declaration to overturn it, which so far has not occurred.


Meanwhile, North Dakota’s leaders are only too eager to divert Missouri River reservoirs to the state’s oil fracking boom, which requires hundreds of millions of gallons of water. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) has stated that he will oppose any Corps plan that would restrict oil companies from using that water.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

River vs. River: Corps Manages Missouri, Mississippi Rivers for Conflicting Goals (editorial, Quad City Times)

Mississippi River Traffic in Trouble (by Joe Harris, Courthouse News Service)

Despite Protests, Warnings River Flows Slowed (Farm Futures)

Mississippi River could become impassable in two weeks (by Scott Wuerz, Belleville News-Democrat)

Every U.S. State Now Hit by Drought Conditions (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


has20birds 5 years ago
"Water has a robustness, a durability, even a strength of character we rarely appreciate, even as we rely on it. Although we think of the Earth as getting crowded, and it is, the 7 billion people alive now represent a tiny slice of the history of human beings. Demographers estimate that over the course of the last fifty thousand years, about 100 million people have lived on Earth. A typical pers on needs a minimum of 3 liters of drinking water a day. If we imagine that, stretching way back into prehistory, the average life span of those 100 billion people was a conservative thirty years, that means that all the people who have ever lived on Earth have drunk 3,300 trillion liters of water. And that's just the people. The animals outnumber the people 1000:1. And they stretch back in time hundreds of millions of years. An elephant drinks 150 liters of water a day. How much water did a Tyrannosaurus Rexs drink each day? It may not be known for sure, but scientists have found a spot where a dinosaur paused one day in the Mesozoic era to pee on a sandy patch of ground. The resulting trench, from just a single squat, is at least the size of a modern bathtub, 40 to 50 gallons. More important, people have been around for just 50,000 years. Tens of millions of dinosaurs lived on Earth for 165 million years. Drinking water everyday, and peeing. The total water consumption of all the animals who've ever lived is hard to even conceive, but at the low end, it is certainly 10 million times the total human water consumption (and that doesn't include the plants). Together, the creatures that have lived on Earth have easily required a thousand times the amount of liquid fresh water available on the planet." From "The Big Thirst" by Charles Fishman
has20birds 5 years ago The drawings below show various blue spheres representing relative amounts of Earth's water in comparison to the size of the Earth. Are you surprised that these water spheres look so small? They are only small in relation to the size of the Earth. These images attempt to show three dimensions, so each sphere represents "volume." Overall, it shows that in comparison to the volume of the globe the amount of water on the planet is very small - and the oceans are only a "thin film" of water on the surface. Spheres representing all of Earth's water, Earth's liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers The largest sphere represents all of Earth's water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant.

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