Hydraulic Fracking in Texas Could Intensify Texas’ Water Shortages

December 18, 2014

Hydraulic Fracking Takeaway cover

A new economic and policy analysis concludes that the hydraulic fracturing (HF) or “fracking” being done in Texas is adding to the state’s overuse of its water resources, but is only part of the state’s “Texas-sized” water problem.  A recent study conducted by students at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University has been summarized in “The Takeaway,” published by the School’s Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy.

HF is a drilling process that uses a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals to create small fractures that create paths that allow oil and gas to be produced from reservoir formations at an increased rate. While fracking is not the only contributor to water scarcity in Texas, the fact that each well using this technology in oil and gas production requires roughly five million gallons of water is a stress factor, especially given the water demands of a growing population.

The research shows that the boom in HF has brought significant economic and environmental benefits to the United States but that there are long-term water usage issues that need to be addressed. This is especially true in Texas, where there has been exponential growth in oil and gas production using hydraulic fracturing in the massive Eagle Ford Shale geologic formation.

The Bush School study confirmed that within the Eagle Ford Shale, fresh groundwater aquifers are overdrawn annually at two and a half times their recharge rate.  While HF operations are the third largest users of groundwater in the area, irrigation alone exceeds the recharge rate by more than 50 percent.  The 2012 state water plan estimated that Texas could face a shortfall of 2.7 trillion gallons of water a year by 2060.  Filling that gap would require an estimated $53 billion in new infrastructure of which only $2 billion has been allocated.

The Bush School research team, which included seven students from the Master of Public Service and Administration program, was led by Dr. James Griffin, who holds the Bob Bullock Chair in Public Policy and Finance and is an expert on energy policy.

The team has several recommendations to encourage reductions in HF water use, including economic incentives for companies to use brackish instead of fresh groundwater and giving companies recognition for reductions with a “Green Star” rating from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  They also emphasize that accurate data reporting on all water consumption in the state is essential so that inefficient water use practices in all areas—irrigation, municipal use, mining, and others—can be identified and remedied.  They conclude that without broad water regulation efforts, the state will continue to suffer from overuse of water—its most precious resource.

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