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Texas Drought Threatens Fracking Boom For South Texas Towns

Texas is in the midst of the third worst drought on record, which is a problem for water-intensive industries like hydraulic fracturing.
Photo by dasroofless
Texas is in the midst of the third worst drought on record, which is a problem for water-intensive industries like hydraulic fracturing.

The controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to remove oil and gas from beneath shale rock has faced environmental criticism for generating loud noise, stamping a foot print in the wilderness, and pumping large amounts of undisclosed chemicals deep into the earth. Now the practice being used to unlock vast reserves of domestic energy is coming under fire for another reason: the amount of water it uses.

Ninety-eight percent of Texas is still in a drought, and the cost to farmers has already reached $1.2 billion, but it takes 13 million gallons of water to open a single well in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, according to a report today in Bloomberg News.

Water consumption by Eagle Ford Shale drillers is forecast to explode during the next 25 years, Mace said. A study to be released later this summer by the Texas Water Development Board and the University of Texas’s Bureau of Economic Geology estimates fracking-water demand in the area will jump 10-fold by 2020, and double again by 2030, he said.

Drillers have taken measures to reduce their water consumption, according to the Bloomberg report, like recycling fracking fluids and building limestone roads to eliminate the need to spray down dirt roads.

Complicating the issue in South Texas  is that the mining boom brought about as a result of the technological innovation of fracking is bringing much-needed jobs and tax revenue to areas that used to be economically depressed. The AP reported this weekend on the towns  around the Eagle Ford Shale, about 90 miles south of San Antonio.

[N]earby towns are rushing to house hundreds of workers and approve plans for apartment complexes and industrial parks to keep up with the development of the Eagle Ford shale formation, one of the most plentiful new oil fields in the country. After several years of preliminary work, the project is fully under way and sales tax revenues are soaring. Municipalities are paving roads, laying water lines and creating parks while trying to avoid being overextended when the boom tapers off.

Texas Public Radio, the NPR member station in San Antonio, found that the boom was so big that drilling firms were having a hard time finding places to house their employees.

"In Cotulla, they've rented up most of the hotel rooms for their own people, Carrizo, the one motel, they bought it. They have only their people staying there. And some of them have to go as far as San Antonio or Laredo," said [local merchant Terry] Cole.

This study by the University of Texas Center for Community and Business Research says drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale currently supports 12,000 full-time jobs, and will support almost 68,000 jobs by 2020. That is forecast to add $1.2 billion in state revenue, and $450 million in local government revenues.

Of course, that’s assuming the water shortage doesn’t slow operations, or that evidence doesn’t  emerges to indicate fracking isas disastrous as some environmentalists claim. The Texas drought shows no immediate signs of ending, and meanwhile, a multidisciplinary team of University of Texas researchers is conducting the largest study to date on the environmental effects of fracking. It expects to publish results later this year.  

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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