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Hydraulic Fracking’s Effect on the Texas Fresh Water Supply

According to reports, the state of Texas is in the midst of the driest eight-month period in the recorded history of the state. As west Texas reservoirs run dry, communities of the region are desperately looking for their next water supply and area farmers can only hope for rain. Sources say that during this period, oil companies continue to pump millions of gallons of fresh water from underground aquifers which they store in plastic pits on the west Texas oil fields.

According to oil industry sources, the purpose of the stored water is to break loose rocks which will help the companies gain access to trapped underground oil. Reportedly, the water is mixed with mixtures of chemicals and sand before being pumped into the wells at a high pressure to fracture the rock and free the oil. This process is also known as hydraulic fracking. Industry sources say it can take millions of gallons of fluid to hydraulically fracture a single well. Further, sources say only 20-25 percent of the water is usually recovered while the rest disappears underground.

According to the Texas Water Development Board, in 2010 around 13.5 billion gallons of water was used in hydraulic fracking statewide. Industry sources report that the number is likely to double by the year 2020. Industry representatives have stated that fracking has led to a second oil boom in west Texas, as the fracking procedure previously only used for natural gas was found to be just as effective for oil flow. One industry representative estimates that at least 75 percent of wells drilled in the Texas Permian Basin are subject to fracking procedures which translates into a massive consumption of water.

Sources say estimates show that anywhere from 50 thousand to 4 million gallons of water is required to frack a well, depending on the nature of the rock. However, other sources estimate that water usage can be as high as 13 million gallons of water per well. Further, sources say that almost all the water used for hydraulic fracking is fresh water and not the non-potable (unfit for drinking) brackish water which is found deep underground.

According to industry sources, lease operators often purchase the water from the land owner or even from nearby cities and truck the water to the well site where the fracking will be done. However, the preferred method is to drill a water well on site. The water is then stored in the plastic pits in the ground before being taken to the oil drill site. Once at the well site, the water is poured into 20 gallon tanks and then mixed with toxic chemicals to make fracking fluid. The frack fluid is then shot into the ground where it cracks and widens the fissures in the earth's crust, allowing previously unattainable oil to escape and be retrieved.

According to one industry official, fresh water is used because it's the most effective and not because it's easily accesible. The non-potable brackish water is fine for some purposes, but given the task at hand, water with fewer impurities works much better. The official reports that he doesn't know of a single west Texas company which uses the "very very abundant" non-potable brackish water.

Considering the unprecedented drought in west Texas, competitors for the fresh water and ground water conservation districts see the oil and gas industries' use of limted water supplies as a huge problem. As oil production in the area has recently increased, many area farmers and ranchers say they experienced draw down on their private wells and are now dealing diminished flow problems. The consensus among entities competing for the water seems to be that the oil and gas companies should use the plentiful non-potable brackish water for their fracking endeavors. Others have expressed they do not want to prevent the companies from drilling; they only want to protect a scarce resource they can't do with-out when supply is serverely limited.

Reportedly, the issue has also recently drawn the attention of the Texas legislature which passed law this session requiring oil and gas companies to disclose how much water is used on the fracking treatments for each well.

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