83rd Texas Legislature: Pending bills would regulate water use in fracking operations

We all need water to survive, and so does the Texas economy. As the population grows alongside the booming oil and gas industry, water issues have come to the forefront to stay. The process of hydraulic fracturing, which is widely used in several Texas shale plays, requires millions of gallons of water for each well. This process of gas extraction, which involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water and chemicals into shale formations, has entered into the public consciousness in the last few years. Even New York Times columnist David Brooks is wondering who the next “Steve Jobs of Shale” will be.

Concerns about water contamination and the amount of water consumed in the fracking process have come under increasing public scrutiny. In Texas, innovations that would reduce the amount of fresh water used in the extraction process, face a challenging market environment, because injecting wastewater into a disposal well is often cheaper than recycling the water – at least for now.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), the state water resources planning organization, estimates that in 2010 total water consumption for hydraulic fracturing “represented about 0.5% of the water use in the state.” But since water use in hydraulic fracturing is “unevenly distributed across the state” total water consumption can be much greater in some plays. In counties with a large amount of shale gas activity, the percentage of water used for hydraulic fracturing operations can be significantly higher, causing friction between industries.

The TWDB published a 2011 revision to the hydraulic fracturing sections of the study “Current and Projected Water Use in the Texas Mining and Oil and Gas Industry.” The study shows that water use for oil and gas hydraulic fracturing has spiked with the growth of the industry. The revised water use and consumption estimates “are essentially consistent with the previous report but have a more subdued peak and a longer tail.” The new estimates take into consideration increased water recycling as well as increased use of brackish water instead of fresh water. As hydraulic fracturing becomes more widespread and water becomes even more precious with the enduring drought, the oil and gas industry’s use and consumption of water have come into focus at the Texas Legislature. Here are a few bills I am watching this session:

  • HB 3315 defines and regulates the reuse and recycling of produced water from oil and gas activities.
  • HB 448 requires oil or gas well operators using hydraulic fracturing to notify by mail persons residing near the well and provide them with a list of the chemicals to be used in the water treatment.
  • SB 1779 provides tax incentives for the recycling of water used in oil or gas drilling or production.
  • SB 873 directs groundwater conservation districts to require permits for water wells drilled for use at a hydraulic fracturing facility.

environmental dataCarissa Ries

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