Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Water Use in Fracking Draws Legislature’s Attention

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

A flare burns in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.

The drilling process known as “fracking” has opened up huge deposits of oil and gas in Texas and other parts of the country. It’s brought plenty of jobs – and profits – to the state. But it also requires something Texas has in short supply – water. Now the issue has caught the eye of the Texas legislature.

At a joint meeting of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committees Wednesday, a large group of lawmakers got an earful on the subject, with a meeting that lasted hours. Most of the testimony came from folks in the oil and gas industry, like Corey Pomeroy with the Texas Oil and Gas Association, who downplayed how much water fracking needs.

“The oil and gas industry accounts for less than once percent of Texas’ water in the exploration and production of oil and gas,” Pomeroy testified.

But under questioning by lawmakers, Pomeroy acknowledged that in certain locales, that percentage can be higher.

A recent UT study, initially reported on by Kate Galbraith of the Texas Tribune, found that while fracking is a small share of Texas’ overall water use, it has been rising, going up about 125 percent from 2008 to 2011.

Locally, fracking can have a big impact. Two of the booming oil and gas plays in the state are in arid areas: the Permian Basin in West Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas. In parts of the Eagle Ford, water used for fracking and drilling accounted for more than 50 percent of water use, according to the report, which was funded by the oil and gas industry.

A typical fracking job can require five million gallons of water, and in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, drillers used about half as much water as the City of Austin did that same year.

Energy Resources Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Granbury, said even if fracking is using a small amount of water overall, every drop counts.

“When you’re the last guy in, and you’re in a drought, and getting the press, I think it behooves the industry to make sure we are understanding where we are in the limelight … and highlight the fact that we’re trying to get away from freshwater,” Keffer said. “It’s just a fact of life that we have to deal with.”

No environmental groups testified at the meeting, but the first to address the legislators was Dr. Gerald North, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University. He warned that due to manmade climate change, Texas is likely to face more extreme weather in the coming decades, with less precipitation and longer summers. “The evidence is now strong enough that it should be taken very seriously by all of you,” North told the lawmakers.

There were plenty of solutions offered by the various companies and researchers who testified, with some of them advertised as being close to a market reality. One company, MCR Oil Tools, said it had figured out a way to frack without using much water at all, and with just a couple of Ford 350 trucks instead of the fleet required for a normal frack job.

Stephen Jester of ConocoPhillips said that drillers can sometimes tap into deeper aquifers and use brackish water. Jester said water use and road traffic and damage were the chief concerns of locals where his company is active. He said since ConocoPhillips started drilling in the Eagle Ford in 2010, it’s reduced it’s freshwater usage by 45%. ConocoPhillips is also moving to a more gel-based fracking that uses less water, he said.

While Brent Halldorson, a representative of the newly-formed Texas Water Recycling Association, an industry group, asked for tax breaks for drillers to encourage producers to recycle water.

That got the attention of Natural Resources Chairman Allan Ritter, R-Nederland.

“It kinda sounds familiar, the first thing you do is come up and ask for tax incentives,” Ritter told him. “Boy, I’ve heard that a few times. Good luck with that, sir.”

Halldorson said he thought it was best for the industry to reduce its water use on its own, without any legislation or rules.

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, questioned that.

“You want to avoid regulation, but you still want incentives?” Burnam asked.

“We want to steer away from anything where we’re trying to force anything,” Halldorson answered.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees oil and gas drilling in the state, is currently considering new rules that could make it easier for fracking companies to recycle and reuse more water for drilling.


  • George Z

    No one can trust the fracking industry to do anything other than be expedient. They don’t care whether they pollute water and air. They tell outright lies whenever it suits them. They need regulation !!!!

  • Wes_Scott

    Regardless of the percent of total water used, the fact remains that water used for fracking is permanently destroyed and forever removed from our hydrologic table.

    Put another way, if industry uses just 1% of our annual water usage, then in a decade we will have lost 10% of our total available water supply, and that is VERY significant by any measure.

    Comparing its water use to golf courses, commercial and industrial operations other than oil and gas production, and other water users whose water is treated and returned to the hydrologic cycle is an exercise in bait-and-switch logic. It is a false attempt by industry to pretend that its water use is the same as that of other water users when nothing could be further from the truth.

    • Marc

      Wes, that is a great analogy. I have heard our water board people say that the water use would be 1-3% of annual total water use. By that measure, we could be in very deep trouble in a very short time period. We are already in a severe drought that our state climatologist says may last another 5-15 years. Losing 10-30% of our available drinking water in a decade, especially during a prolonged drought, is just not acceptable.

    • GeorgeB

      Umm…guys, maybe a math refresher would be in order? I understand you’re concerned about water, but let’s look at your assertions of water usage. If we use 1% of our water in one year, and that rate of usage continues over a 10 year period, it still only comprises 1% of the total water over the 10 year period. If you compare the water used in fracking for 10 years against the total water usage for ONE year, then you’d be at 10%, but if you’re going to add the 1%/yr for 10 years into one lump, you have to add the other 99% for 10 years into the other lump

      • Marc

        No sir, you are wrong! That one percent EACH year is permanently taken out of the hydrologic cycle EACH year. If you PERMANENTLY remove 1% per year, then over ten years you will have removed 10%. Wes had it right. The math is perfect. It is your comprehension that is lacking.

        Let me clarify that a little bit. Actually, it would be 1% of 100% the first year, 1% of 99% the second year, 1% of 98% the third year, etc. What Wes (and I) should have said is that each year you would lose 1% of the AVAILABLE water, however much that is. But, for practical purposes, he was right.

  • Marc

    For more than 3 years I have been listening to the frac’ing people falsely claim that they do not use much water, that the water they use can be, and is being, recycled and that nothing they do pollutes groundwater, surface water or causes earthquakes. The one thing I have never heard from that industry is the truth – about anything. I can always tell when industry is lying by the fact that its lips are moving.

    Not only does the natural gas industry need regulation, it needs strict regulation. It also needs stiff fines for the damage it causes. Current fine structures are merely a light slap on the wrist that they consider a cost of doing business. We need real regulatory agencies that are not staffed by people from the oil and gas industry, and which take their responsibilities to citizens seriously.

  • Dale Warren

    It drew their attention but nothing was passed as the O&G lobby feeds Frasier and Keffer the two elected leaders of the key comittees that oversee water and energy. This was all politics and good press with no intention of legistion due to lobby efforts agains legislation. Mean while Texas O&G is reycling less than 5% of their water while they LOSE the equivalent volumes of water used by the city of Austin. This water is Gone for Good from hydro cycle. By the time the legislative session convenes again, the indsutry will have consumed and pumped down a deep well the same volume of water used by 4MM people. This is a shame.

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