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Environmental Groups Call Bill To Treat Oil Wastewater 'Corporate Welfare'

Rows of chairs in the House chamber of the Texas Capitol.
Gabriel C. Pérez

On its face, you might think a bill to treat wastewater from oil and gas operations would get the support of environmental groups. But you'd be wrong.

To hear state Rep. Ryan Guillen describe HB 2545 on the House floor Thursday, it's all about taking the salt out of water to make it drinkable.

“This bill will incentivize the next generation of [desalination] plants and encourage private industry partnerships to help us meet our future water challenges,” the Democrat from Rio Grande City said.

But the Environmental Defense Fund said the bill is a bad idea, describing it as corporate welfareon Twitter.

“In essence, the bill is really trying to provide a subsidy for oil- and gas-produced water,” said Colin Leyden, who works on energy policy for the group.

The “produced water” he’s referring to is the brackish groundwater and fracking fluid that comes out of the earth when companies pump oil.

The bill would basically give companies up to $17 for every thousand gallons of that water that’s treated.

“As a comparison, we pay here in Austin $1.25 for the first 2,000 gallons of water from the city,” Leyden said. “So this is a very generous subsidy.”

There’s another reason Leyden opposes the bill. He says scientists don’t know enough about treating “produced water” from oil wells to return it to the environment.

But most Texas lawmakers support the measure. It passed its second vote in the House on Thursday and has one more vote to go before heading to the Senate.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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