Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

To Drill Wells in Norman, Company Buys City Drinking Water Right From the Hydrant

Fire Hydrant

Alphageek / Flickr

For a fee, most municipalities will give contractors and other industrial users a special water meter and temporary access to a city fire hydrant. The meters and hydrant access are often used for construction sites, and the buyer usually pays a higher per-gallon water rate for the high-flow access.

But there’s an unusual industrial customer buying water from the City of Norman, The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports: Finley Resources, a Texas drilling company that’s using the water for a horizontal drilling operation:

While it’s not clear how much water Finley and its contractors use, no ordinance specifically prohibits the city from selling drinking water for industrial purposes. Ward 2 City Councilman Tom Kovach said if a business wants to purchase water for a construction project, the staff wouldn’t make a judgment call to deny a permit if an ordinance doesn’t specifically prohibit it.

He said he was unaware of the city selling drinking water to a driller until he received calls from The Journal Record.

Oklahoma’s ongoing drought has intensified discussions about appropriate water use, and most of Norman’s water comes from wells and Lake Thunderbird. The city can also buy water from Oklahoma City, if it’s needed, which it’s done for the last three years, Terry-Cobo reports.

The City of Norman has enacted “moderate” mandatory water conservation measures due to the drought and low lake levels, which restrict activities like lawn plant-watering and car-washing.

Other drillers are recycling and reusing frack water, or use non-potable sources for the drilling technique, which contaminates the water with chemicals and sand, Terry-Cobo reports.

“We do have concerns about water, so we are going to be looking into how we can modify our water conservation ordinance when we hit certain stages of drought,” Kovach said.

He said he and other city staff members are concerned about using potable water for drilling. The city is trying to reduce potable water use. It has projects to reuse non-potable water on such places as golf courses and to clean trucks at the water reclamation plant. The city had to shut down 15 drinking water wells because naturally occurring arsenic exceeded federal safe drinking water regulations.

Clarification: The company is drilling the well, but hasn’t started the hydraulic fracturing process.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.


  • Archibald

    Definition of “‘moderate’ mandatory water conservation measures” is Water Rationing!

    • Not quite. A “ration” is a fixed amount, and The City of Norman hasn’t capped the amount of water customers can use. But the city has restricted certain types of use like watering, car-washing, etc.

  • maryfrancis111

    Joe Wertz: you gave the rates below in your 2013 article, but you didn’t say what OKC charged Norman for the water it buys:
    did Norman pay? And wouldn’t it be prudent in times of water problems
    like Norman’s to increase the cost per gallon with each 5,000 gallon
    increase in volume?

    __”OKC charges $2.55 per thousand gallons, which doesn’t change with the
    volume of water used, according to Utilities Director Marsha Slaughter.
    So this is the breakdown for OKC:

    5,000 gpm – $12.75
    10,000 gpm – $25.50
    50,000 gpm – $127.50
    200,000 gpm – $510.00

    • @maryfrancis111:disqus: I think there are peak and off-peak rates in the OKC-to-Norman water contract. A 2009 story on the “20-year” contract says OKC’s peak rate is “generally is $4.26 per 1,000 gallons.”

      Source: http://newsok.com/norman-water-contract-on-hold-until-study-is-completed/article/3378534

      And, according to the Journal Record story above, customers who get a permit to meter a hydrant pay a higher rate than standard customers. In Norman: “The rate is about 20 percent higher – $2.50 per 1,000 gallons – than the standard commercial water rate of $2.10 per 1,000 gallons.”

      As for having a variable water rate that changes with drought conditions or water supply availability: That’s a novel idea, but I’m not sure how many municipalities have tried something like that. Citizens, city councils, water planners might have a hard time adjusting to water rates that change frequently.

  • Hello, Oklahoma! Why doesn’t anyone do an Open Records Request to get the water information in Norman? Records should be reflecting the amount of water being used by the gas and oil industry AND they should be paying a Premium Rate!! With Chesapeake and Devon based there in Oklahoma, it’s probably not surprising that this kind of information is being kept from the public. Or that the public is just not looking into the issue.

    Strangely, even with Oklahoma and Texas being so close to each other, it seems there may be a total lack of communication between the two states. There appears to be no mention of the amount of water being used for Fracking operations very often. We know that for North Texas wells, 3-5 Million Gallons of “Fresh” water is required for each well. It MUST be “fresh” potable water along with the sand and chemical concoction so that under VERY high pressure it can get down to the horizontal wellbore deep in the earth and “frack” the well. In our communities, our cities are selling the water to the industry.

    Back during the summer of 2011, and the extreme Drought conditions in North Texas, Chespeake was caught taking at least 4 Million Gallons of Fresh Water from the Arlington, TX water supply (via a fire hydrant) (they had paid for it) to frack a well in Grand Prairie (the city immediately next to it). Grand Prairie had imposed its Drought Contingency Plan and drilling and fracking were explicitly prohibited by the Plan. The City was granting few variances to the Gas industry since our contracted water supplies were with the City of Dallas and Ft. Worth with some well water available during the summer. Water could have potentially run out without restrictions.

    Grand Prairie, TX Drought Contingency Plan: http://www.gptx.org/index.aspx?page=1481

    Grand Prairie, TX considers gas drilling activities as non-essential (see the above plan). Our city was apparently the only city to ever invoke this plan on the gas drilling industry:


    Here’s a D/FW news story from that summer (Be sure to watch the video, too):


    With the gas and oil industry paying premium rates for fresh water from the fire hydrants, it has been a money maker in North Texas municipalities…until it’s clear that the citizens may end up without water or paying a huge price for it. It takes a LOT of fresh water to frack just one well. How many shale gas and oil wells are there in Oklahoma? How many have been fracked in recent years?

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »