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Drilling Uses 40 Percent Of Water In Some Texas Counties

The latest data out today shows nearly half the state of Texas remains in a drought. Which is why a hearing at the Texas Legislature took on even more importance.

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Dimmitt County is in the Eagle Ford Shale. Click to enlarge

Drought continues to be a critical issue especially in North Central Texas and parts of South Texas. That’s some of the very same areas where oil and gas drilling has boomed. A significant coincidence because drilling uses the technique called fracking, which can require up to 4 million gallons of water per well.

But just how much water is the oil and gas industry using? At a hearing held jointly by the House Natural Resources and the House Energy Resources Committees, members of the commission that regulates drilling, the Railroad Commission of Texas, said the average is just 5 percent of the total water used by communities.

But lawmakers listening to the testimony said, hold on. Is it really just a few percent, wondered Rep. Tracy King?

“We’ve used that figure often to defend the industry against claims they’re wasting water. But then when you start looking very locally …”

And when King looked locally where he’s from — Dimmitt County in South Texas, one of the hottest drilling spots — he estimated total water usage there to drill for oil was way more than 5 percent, which one of the state’s regulatory commissioners, Ryan Sitton, confirmed.

“It’s going to be around 40 percent,” Sitton testified.

The state regulators told lawmakers they’ve put new rules into effect to encourage drillers to recycle water but they didn’t know how much actually was being re-used. Lawmakers said they’d heard drillers in some other states were recycling as much as 90 percent of their water,  while estimates in Texas were as little as five percent.

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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