Amy Mall, Senior Policy Analyst, Washington, D.C.
It’s the worst single-year drought in the recorded history of Texas. There are water restrictions throughout Texas, but what about the oil and gas industry?
According to a recent article in The New York Times: A 2007 study prepared for the state’s water authorities estimated that natural gas drillers in the Barnett shale area of north Texas could consume 7 to 13 percent of the groundwater from local aquifers in 2025.
If you think it sounds like the Barnett shale is sucking up a lot of Texas water, it turns out that the Eagle Ford shale,where oil is being extracted, requires three to four times as much water to fracture a well as the Barnett Shale. According to a Bloomberg report: fracking a single Eagle Ford well requires as much as 13 million gallons of water–”….enough to supply the cooking, washing and drinking needs of 240 adults for an entire year.”
One example of the impact is Lake Benbrook, where even though the water is down 17 feet from its normal level, the city of Weatherford has pumped three quarters of a billion gallons out of the lake to fill Lake Weatherford, which is then drained by an oil and gas operator for hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett shale area. According to one local resident: “Everybody’s on water restrictions except, apparently, the oil companies.”
According to the 2012 Texas Water Development Board’s water plan: “In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, and its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises.”
And it’s not only fracking itself that uses fresh water. According to the Oil and Gas Accountability Project: the mining of sand used in hydraulic fracturing in one mine alone will use 3,700 gallons of water per minute, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, year round.
Oil and gas operators recycle some of their used frack fluid, which can save water. But they don’t do it everyplace. They should, to reduce demands on fresh water as well as reduce toxic waste. But even if they did maximize waste recycling, a lot of the frack fluid remains underground, so it can’t be recycled–meaning that oil and gas production will continue to drain fresh water resources, especially if the industry keeps expanding at what seems like the speed of light. As we grapple with the increasing challenges of drought and global warming, demands on precious water supply will only grow and create additional pressures on the water we all need to survive. As one wise Texas woman said in a video: “I can’t drink oil.”
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