Article courtesy of Jennifer Hiller | December 18, 2014 | My San Antonio | Shared as educational material
Hydraulic fracturing in the Eagle Ford Shale is adding water stress to a region where aquifers already are being overdrawn, according to a new report from the Mosbacher Institute at Texas A&M University.
The report, released this week, looks at water use in the 26-county Eagle Ford, which swoops 400 miles from Webb County at the Mexican border to the College Station area in the east. The region has become one of the world’s busiest oil fields since its discovery in late 2008.
“Nowhere has the growth in hydraulic fracturing been more pronounced than in the Eagle Ford Shale,” the report says.
Fresh groundwater aquifers are overdrawn in the Eagle Ford by about 200,000 acre feet per year, or 2.5 times their recharge rate, according to the report.
But the report says that aquifers in the Eagle Ford Shale “would still be massively over-tapped,” even without any hydraulic fracturing. Irrigation makes up more than half of all groundwater use in the area and by itself exceeds the recharge rate by 50 percent.
Hydraulic fracturing “is not the only or even the most significant contributor to the longstanding problem of water stress in Texas,” the report says.
Fracking pumps a mix of water and chemicals at high pressure to break the shale. Then sand is added to the fluid in increasing amounts to hold open the fissures, letting oil and gas flow up the well to the surface.
Oil and gas wells use about 5 million gallons each for fracking and that use has come under intense public scrutiny during a time of drought and increasing competition for water. The report says:
“With much of the state continuing to face a prolonged period of drought, many interests across the state have sought someone to blame. It should be no surprise then that as the boom in hydraulic fracturing coincides with increased stress on the state’s water supplies, that the technology has come under scrutiny for its water use. Many blame hydraulic fracturing as a major contributor to the problem, pointing to the large amounts of water needed to fracture each well.”
A previous A&M report, published in April, said about 90 percent of water for hydraulic fracturing in the Eagle Ford is fresh groundwater.
The latest report, called “Water Use for Hydraulic Fracturing: A Texas Sized Problem?” makes three recommendations:
- Tax incentives to oil and gas companies for using brackish instead of fresh groundwater, such as reduced severance taxes.
- The Texas Railroad Commission or the Texas Commission in Environmental Quality come up with a “green” designation for limiting the pumping of fresh groundwater.
- Accurate and transparent data reporting on consumption from all water users, including energy companies, irrigation and cities.
The economic and policy analysis was done by students at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M.
The Express-News looked at water use in the Eagle Ford last year, and found that operators in 2012 reported using around 43,770 acre-feet in in 3,522 Eagle Ford wells, the approximate annual usage for 153,000 San Antonio households.
The issue is most acute in the Winter Garden counties, including La Salle, Zavala and Dimmit, where the water table had been dropping for decades before the oil boom started. In the Winter Garden, fracturing is taking as much as half of the available recharge to the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District, and is as much as 20 percent of total water use, according to the Southwest Research Institute.