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Does Texas Need to Manage Water Differently?

An oil rig in the Permian Basin of Texas.("Hitchhacking" via Flickr)

In light of record drought and high fresh water demand from fracking, does Texas need to manage water differently?

Texas water storage is at an all time low. The previous historical low of conservation storage capacity for this time of year was 72 percent. Currently, Texas is at 66 percent. A report released on May 2 by Boston-based research group, Ceres, says that the extraction of oil and gas is stressing water supplies across the nation with the vast majority of stressed water tables located here in Texas.

Given projected sharp increases in production in the coming years and the potentially intense nature of local water demands, competition over water should be a growing concern for companies.

The group advises individuals and institutions on so-called “responsible investing,” a concept that means investment in environmentally and socially responsible companies. Monica Frayman, co-author of the report, tells Marfa Public Radio
We all need to think a little bit more about water, which we have taken so much for granted in the past. How we're going to value it in the future? What the cost benefit of using water is? Are we better off as a society using it for agriculture or using it for pulling energy out of the ground or environmental uses? We have to do a lot more thinking around how we value what water provides us.

<i>Almost half (47 percent) of shale gas and oil wells are being developed in regions with high to extremely high water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the annual available water is being withdrawn by municipal, industrial and agricultural users in these regions. Overall, 75 percent of wells are located in regions with medium or higher baseline water stress levels.</i>


Prolonged drought in many parts of Texas and Colorado last summer has created increased competition and conflict between farmers, communities and energy developers, which the report suggests is only likely to continue. In Colorado and North Dakota, industry has been able to secure water supplies by paying a higher premium for water than other users or by getting temporary permits. Neither of these practices can be guaranteed to work in the future, however. Even in wetter regions of the northeast United States, dozens of water permits granted to operators had to be withdrawn last summer due to low water levels in environmentally vulnerable water sources.

The bottom line: Shale energy development cannot grow without water, but in order to do so the industry’s water needs and impacts need to be better understood, measured and managed. The report says that a key question investors should be asking is whether water management planning is getting sufficient attention from both industry and regulators.