Frackers Jockey With Potash Miners for Space to Grow in Top U.S. Oil Field

Frackers in America’s busiest oil area are butting heads with miners working to spice up manufacturing of a significant crop nutrient in brief provide following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Relentless drilling within the Delaware basin has pushed New Mexico’s oil manufacturing up sooner than in another state over the previous 10 years. But the Delaware, a part of the Permian oil field that straddles West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, additionally incorporates huge deposits of potash, a key fertilizer ingredient for corn, cotton, sugar, wheat and plenty of different commodities.

The two industries are competing for the land that homes each sources. They have slowed one another’s efforts not too long ago and diverged on vital issues resembling learn how to maintain the mining {industry}’s underground workforce secure.

The Delaware basin is a uncommon location the place oil firms conduct high-pressure fracking close to miners working underground to extract potash and different minerals. Frackers have had the higher hand for years, pushing deeper into the practically 500,000 acres of New Mexico’s U.S.-designated potash territory, following a 2012 order by the Interior Department that successfully enabled way more oil and gasoline drilling there.

Exxon Mobil 5 years in the past spent practically $6 billion on land in southeastern New Mexico for its amenities.


Nick Oxford/Reuters

Miners say they need oil and gasoline wells farther away from their operations for security causes. Oil executives say that’s pointless, and {that a} bigger buffer zone would depart them fewer locations to drill and would eat into manufacturing.

New Mexico’s largest miner,

Intrepid Potash Inc.,

IPI 1.25%

mentioned it’s virtually hemmed in by shale drillers circling its operations. It says it has tried to fend off oil firms’ makes an attempt to drill wells it deems dangerously near its mines by protesting proposed drilling websites. It mentioned it will get a number of allow proposals every week from firms trying to drill close by.

The flurry of exercise has made it tough to spice up mining output, and fracking might carry important security threat to mines if performed with insufficient tools or planning, mentioned Intrepid Chief Executive

Bob Jornayvaz.

He cited oil-industry analysis displaying couplings on metal casing of a properly fail or grow to be deformed extra incessantly than many imagine, and will trigger gasoline or fluids to leak into mines operated by underground staff.

A 2012 order by the Interior Department set buffer zones from potash mines of a quarter-mile for oil wells and a half-mile for gasoline wells. But within the 10 years since then, the Bureau of Land Management hasn’t delivered impartial, scientific research on secure operations required by the order, in keeping with Mr. Jornayvaz. BLM didn’t reply to requests for remark.


What is your outlook on the battle between shale drillers and mining firms? Join the dialog beneath.

Mr. Jornayvaz mentioned the oil {industry} ought to be part of him in urging regulators to complete the mandated research, however he mentioned oil firms desire to depend on their very own engineers quite than third-party research to evaluate operational security issues. Oil executives say the {industry} is working safely, and the present buffer zones are sufficient.

Intrepid’s mines in New Mexico have about 4.3 million tons of potash product reserves, in keeping with a 2021 report ready for Intrepid by Agapito Associates Inc. But the {industry} has shrunk for years as firms closed down mines due to low costs and poor economics. New Mexico’s potash operations account for roughly 1% of the world’s total provide. Meanwhile, New Mexico’s oil manufacturing is about 1.6% of provide.

The conflict comes as international potash provides have fallen sharply following Western sanctions on two key producers, Belarus and Russia, and analysts say further investments are wanted. The international shortfall has stored costs excessive for all the things from espresso, corn and cotton to soybeans and sugar.

“Right now, every [potash] ton in the world is important because of the missing Belarus tons,” mentioned Joel Jackson, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

The trendy U.S. potash {industry} was created throughout World War I after a German embargo brought on costs to soar. In 1934, the Interior Department designated about 425 sq. miles in New Mexico containing potash as a strategic reserve, proscribing oil and gasoline improvement there.

The Interior Department’s 2012 order enabled extra oil and gasoline drilling when new methods, together with the mixture of horizontal drilling and fracking, set off the shale increase and allowed firms to faucet oil deposits beneath potash mines. From 2012 to 2022, oil firms have drilled roughly 2,000 wells within the potash space.

To successfully drill beneath the potash space, firms function from drilling islands, packing wells tightly collectively from a single website and spreading underground, horizontally drilling out in numerous instructions—an idea much like the best way an offshore oil platform operates.

The oil firm with the largest presence within the potash space is

Exxon Mobil Corp.

, which in 2017 spent practically $6 billion on land in southeastern New Mexico. About 35% of the wells that Exxon is drilling within the Permian are positioned within the potash space, it mentioned.

Jason Gahr, unconventional-wells operations supervisor at Exxon, mentioned the corporate has studied how to make sure the security of potash mines and oil and gasoline operations close by, and developed strategies to take action.

“We learned a lot of things along the way,” Mr. Gahr mentioned. “What we try to do is take those learnings and try to mix those with operational plans that are safe and continue to get better.”

Exxon mentioned that primarily based on its analysis it isn’t clear that increasing the buffer zones would make operations safer and that doing so could be an arbitrary train.

Intrepid has doubled spending in contrast with final 12 months to spice up potash output and plans to extend investments once more subsequent 12 months. The firm would be capable of attain extra sources inside just a few months if oil firms agreed to plug some older wells, however Mr. Jornayvaz mentioned they haven’t carried out so.

Write to Collin Eaton at [email protected]

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