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“Scarce resources to get scarce resources”


The National Weather Service officially declared 2011 as the driest year on record and the second hottest. Meteorologists predict the situation to not improve very much this year either. This makes folks in the hardest hit areas to become quite tense when it comes to uses for the precious resource. The West Texas Permian Basin region is possibly one of the most oil and gas friendly communities in the country. Yet this still does not save the oil and gas industry from being “thrown under the bus.” It’s a bitter-sweet scenario taking into account that it is the hydraulic fracturing process itself that helped trigger Texas’ second oil boom.

Depending on the nature of the rock being penetrated, most estimates show the amount of water required to frac a well is 50,000 gallons to 4 million gallons and in some cases even up to 10 million gallons. In the entire Permian, Adding to the debate is the fact that fresh water is the preferred liquid of choice. Fresh water lacks the impurities often found in brackish water that can compromise the fracture stimulation. Presently, the state legislature requires companies to disclose the amount of water used to frac a well, but there is no regulation on how much can actually be used.

Fresh water used for fracking on a regional scale is not enough to stir up debate, but it’s at the local level where sometimes there can be too many users that consumption becomes too great. In Crockett County this is the case. Slate Williams, general manager of the Crockett Groundwater Conservation District believes that water use for fracking could soon make up more than 25% of the county’s annual water use. Williams said the only visible change, other than the severity of this particular dry spell, is the increasing amount of water being pumped out of the Edwards-Trinity Plateau Aquifer, a massive, 34,000-square-mile water-bearing formation. He said the level of the aquifer has declined steadily over the past decades and that it recharges locally only when Crockett County has received at least 80 percent of its 15-inch average annual rainfall.

While the situation could seem quite grim, it’s important to consider all aspects. Compared to irrigation and municipal use, water used for oil and gas exploration is miniscule. 70% of water pumped from the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer goes to irrigation and 15% municipal. Most oil and gas companies are aware of the concerns and some companies are recycling and reusing the flowback from frac jobs. Others are trucking in the water from areas not so strained. Pioneer Natural Resources is tapping salty, non-drinkable aquifers to develop its 900,000 acres in the Permian Basin and others are simply trying to use brackish water when possible. Therefore, it might not be such a bad idea to start addressing the problem considering all water uses. Obviously, hydrocarbons are in place underground ready for extraction to help meet our country’s energy demand and some land owners are benefiting from the exploration in the area. It could greatly benefit the county as well as the Permian region to find a balance so that all users of the aquifer can meet their demands in an efficient manner.

Sources: Apr 2011 Draft Report, Jean-Philippe Nicot (BEG, University of Texas) for the Texas Water Development Board; TX RRC

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