Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Report Shows Texas Counties Where Fracking and Water Needs Collide

Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT

Tom Bragg, left, of Sunpro Inc., works on finishing filling his truck with water as Gary Wortman takes off the filler hose from his truck after filling up with water at a Chesapeake Energy Corporation fresh water collection station at a sand and gravel pit, May 31, 2012, in Carroll County, Ohio.

The Texas legislature is currently considering plans to fund water projects for the state. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is using billions of gallons of freshwater for fracking, which is getting the attention of lawmakers.

Virginia Palacios, a research associate at the Environmental Defense Fund, has a new analysis showing that many of the Texas counties currently facing water shortages are also slated to have oil and gas development in the coming years.

Palacios collected data from UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology on mining water use and oil and gas water use. She compared that data with projections on county water use by sector by the Texas Water Development Board to determine whether each county’s water supply could fulfill demand. She found that in 12 Texas counties, freshwater use by the oil and gas industry “made up at least 25 percent of overall county-wide demand in 2011.”

Environmental Defense Fund

A researcher at the Environmental Defense Fund determined which counties should be highest priority with water conservation in oil production.

Palacios called the oil and gas industry a “prime candidate for reducing its reliance on freshwater” and said using brackish water could be a good alternative—if some precautions are taken.

Among her findings:

  • “The majority of water used for Texas oil and gas development in 2011 was in 13 counties, ten of which currently have water restrictions in place.”
  • In five counties, 100 percent of the water deficit projected for 2020 can be met by cutting oil and gas water use by half.

“I think that you have to be careful in considering where your waste stream is going,” Palacios says. “You have to have strong rules and oversight in transportation, especially with [brackish water] because it can be more dangerous.”

There are efforts underway by drillers, regulators and lawmakers to encourage more recycling of water in fracking and the use of brackish groundwater. But recycling wastewater remains expensive for drillers, and relatively rare.

The EDF says it is working on solutions to improve efficiency for water use and energy production because, as Palacios says, the two are interdependent.

“It requires energy to produce water, and it also requires water to produce energy,” she says. “So both are connected.”*

Olivia Gordon is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas. 
*This quote has been edited for clarification, originally it incorrectly referred to “clean” energy.

Comments

  • WCGasette

    We have pictures of this same kind of activity in North Texas communities. Seems a picture reflecting Texas would make more sense. Thank you Virgina Palacios for the research. Water pipelines carrying water to drilling sites are not uncommon in North Texas communities. Here are links to a couple of blog stories about that from one of the most serious time periods for the TX Epic Drought in August and September 2011.

    http://bit.ly/YqaVQv

    http://bit.ly/ZwomO4

  • Alyssa Burgin

    Thank you, Virginia, but here is a note of caution–brackish water is not that many steps from potable water. SAWS is already converting it, others will be doing the same. The cost and energy expenditures are not as substantial as with seawater desal. There will come a time when we will need our brackish water–even Mexico has warned us of this, because they now understand how limited water supplies are; they can’t imagine why Americans discount brackish water resources. Please do not join the chorus for more giveaways to the fracking industry. Brackish water is a resource that residents will need for their own uses.

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 »

Economy
Education