About Air and Water

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Investigation: Drilling Boom Brings Water Worries

by Paul Adrian - Investigative Reporter - Fox4News - Tuesday, 12 Jun 2007
Spring rains have filled lakes and ended the recent drought but have not squelched water worries in North Texas as we head into summer.

FOX 4’s Paul Adrian investigates why the state and homeowners in North Texas fear a shortage of future water supplies.

“You just don’t have city water out here,” said Lance Norman, who lives right on the Tarrant/Parker County border.

After 18 years, Norman’s water well went dry last summer.

“Within a couple of days I went from having water to pumping mud,” Norman told FOX 4.

The same thing happened to Parker County resident, Steve Bales.

“Initially I noticed with the water sprinkler. The water just kind of quit coming out of the hose,” Bales explained to FOX 4.

Tom Haydon also lives in Parker County. Haydon says he encountered the same problems with his water well last spring.

“It cost me $3,000.00 for the well and then $1,500.00 more to get it dropped 80 feet,” Haydon told FOX 4.

“It just makes me mad.”

Norman, Bales, and Haydon all had to spend thousands of dollars to drill deeper water wells at their rural homes west of Fort Worth. While they cannot prove why their wells went dry, they point to one huge water user, the natural gas industry.

“They’re given carte-blanche,” said Wise County Resident, Tracy Smith.

“They can do whatever they want. They can use as much as they want,” Smith told FOX 4.

Natural gas drilling companies rely on a process known as “fracking,” which involves pumping thousands of gallons per minute down newly drilled gas wells to break-up the Barnett Shale rock and allows for the flow of natural gas back up the well.

FOX 4 spoke with Steve Campbell of Chesapeake Energy about the process.

You’re probably looking at 50 – 70,000 barrels, per well…which is a little over three million gallons,” Campbell explained to FOX 4. And that 50,000 to 70,000 barrels of water per well is just to get gas production started. Campbell says it’s not so much.

“The oil and gas industries combined will use less than one percent of the water consumption in the Fort Worth vicinity,” Campbell told FOX 4’s Paul Adrian.

The Texas Water Development Board agrees that if you combine the water used in 20 counties in North Texas including Dallas and Tarrant Counties from all water sources, it is true to say "less than one percent" is used by the gas drilling industry. But the water usage story changes when you look at individual, rural counties where private water wells are going dry.

According to the state, in 2005 one out of every twenty five gallons of water used in Parker County went to natural gas production. But by 2010, if demand stays high, the state predicts the industry will use one out of every three gallons of Parker County’s water, which largely comes from groundwater sources.

"There’s no other source of water so, that’s part of the problem,” said Tom Haydon.

“I think the drilling activity has certainly hurt the water situation.”

Parker County is not alone. By 2010 the Texas Water Development Board estimates substantial portions of the water supply in seven counties of the Barnett Shale region will go to natural gas production. The state projects: right percent in Hill County; nine percent in Wise County; ten percent in Hamilton County; 16 percent in Johnson County; 18 percent in Hood County; 33 percent in Parker County; 52 percent in Jack County.

“To me, in the end, nobody’s going to care if I have to pay a little bit more for gas, but if I don’t have any water, we’re going to really have a problem,” said Haydon.

Although the natural gas industry uses a profound amount of water to get new gas wells started, once those wells are producing not so much water is needed. So as the industry moves it focus from county to county, the water usage surges and drops off like a wave.

The Texas Water Development Board predicts that by 2015 the wave will hit Palo Pinto, Erath, Hamilton, Bosque, Hill, and Jack Counties. By that year, the natural gas industry will account for between 14 percent and 55 percent of all the water used in those counties.

By 2020, the wave goes through Hill, Coryell, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, and Hamilton Counties, where the state believes between 15 percent and 76 percent of the water will be used for Barnett Shale drilling. To reemphasize, the state predicts three out of every four gallons of water in Hamilton County in 2020 will be used by the natural gas industry.

But industry representatives argue that one must consider other ways the industry impacts rural areas.

“I think the impact you look at in those rural counties where there’s a lot of natural gas operations taking place is the increase in jobs and tax base and the amount of income we bring to the county,” said Adam Haynes, of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association.

Haynes argues against looking at the industry’s impact on water supply on a county-by-county basis.

“The best way to manage the resource is on an aquifer-wide basis,” Haynes told FOX 4.

However, the Texas Water Development Board found a decidedly local impact in North Texas counties with the most natural gas drilling activity.

“We’re not seeing an aquifer-wide decline in water levels, but people are having trouble with their wells, which suggests that there are more local effects happening from this pumping,” said Robert Mace, the director of the state’s groundwater resources division.

Local government leaders noticed the industry’s impact.

Four counties in the area, Parker, Hood, Montague, and Wise are trying to create a new water conservation district to protect homeowners living off of water wells. Water districts set rules to make sure one person’s well does not make another person’s well go dry. But local politicians say Texas law does not allow them to require permits for natural gas producers.

“They’re not bound right now by any groundwater district,” Wise County Commissioner Kevin Burns told FOX 4. “They’re totally exempt from that.”

Industry representatives, like Adam Haynes say the industry will work within the confines set by local districts. But Haynes also says the industry needs water to produce natural gas and will do everything possible to ensure access to it.

Homeowners like Tom Haydon hope their thirst will be quenched as well.

“We got a problem in this whole area with water,” said Haydon. “If we don’t all kind of work together on it, we’re going to really suffer.”

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