Texas drought: frack the water + frack the climate = “dear God help us”
The state of Texas is in a state of pain.
We almost have to invent a new word to convey the sense of a drought this devastating: 98% of the state is experiencing drought, with areas of “severe” and “exceptional” drought.
Farmers and ranchers are selling their herds. Yet in some towns, the fracking industry is being allowed to use 50% of the water. You can call Texas Governor Rick Perry to ask him why: (512) 463-2000.
I called to ask Perry if Texas is considering any policy changes with regard to permitting water withdrawals for fracking, in the face of this severe drought. Lucy Nashed called back from Governor Perry’s press office to say that they have “no plans to change any Texas policies with regard to fracking at this time,” because the Texas Railroad Commission had recently “streamlined water re-use to make sure we have a balance of economic activity and use of our natural resources.”
Balance? Or Bankruptcy?
Some towns have literally been sucked dry by the fracking water withdrawals. In “Drought-Stricken Texas Fracks Its Way to Water Shortages,” EcoWatch reports on
…the small town of Barnhart, Texas, where the demand for water for fracking was so high, the entire town was sucked dry for days on end. Texas is now building more than 60 miles of pipeline to supply water to Barnhart because of the demands of fracking.
Suzanne Goldenberg reports from the town of Barnhart in The Guardian’s “A Texan tragedy: ample oil, no water: fracking boom sucks away precious water from beneath the ground, leaving cattle dead, farms bone-dry and people thirsty“:
“The day that we ran out of water I turned on my faucet and nothing was there and at that moment I knew the whole of Barnhart was down the tubes,” said Beverly McGuire, a 35-year resident, blinking back tears. “I went: ‘dear God help us.’ That was the first thought that came to mind.”
Here in Pennsylvania the average water usage per frack is 4.7 million gallons. Usage can vary: in Texas anywhere from 2 to 10 million gallons may be used. Each well can be re-fracked ten times, even up to 18 or 20 times, to boost its productivity — using that much water all over again.
Anywhere from 60% to 90%, of all that water stays deep underground forever, permanently unable to re-enter the hydrological cycle. That means it is unavailable for humans and other living creatures. It will never return as mist, dew, cloud, rain, aquifer, spring, stream, or river.
While Texas has a history of drought, residents are questioning the “double whammy” created by fracking, which:
- WHAM! uses up enormous quantities of water, poisoning and removing it permanently from the hydrological cycle, and
- WHAM! escalates climate change by releasing potent greenhouse gases — methane and CO2 — throughout the trucking, drilling, fracking, flaring, separating, dehydrating, distribution and use phases of shale gas, also called the “life cycle” of fracking.
Well-rounded roundtable on MSNBC
In this outstanding feature, MSNBC’s Joy Reid, standing in for Melissa Harris-Perry, reports on the Texas drought and convenes a roundtable to discuss fracking, water, drought, and climate. Please watch: “How fracking impacts drought in Texas.”
The roundtable includes:
Luke Metzger, Environment Texas: “We’re in a real crisis, with 30 communities expected to run out of water completely by year’s end. Reservoirs are at 60%, 300 million trees have died, and rivers are running dry. The figure of 1% [of the state's water used for fracking] is a red herring.
“The crisis is caused by drought, exacerbated by fracking… Fracking often takes place in the most drought-prone areas. The fracking industry used up 26 billion gallons [of water] in one year. This no ‘drop in the bucket.'”
Deborah Cipolla-Dennis, originally from Texas, now of Dryden, New York, which banned fracking: “When I go back to Texas I see the land scarred with frack pads… The landscape is completely different from what I grew up with. Now the farmers and ranchers who live near my family have to sell their herds; they can’t feed their animals because of the drought. To take this water out of the water cycle [for fracking] is a terrible thing.”
Josh Fox, Director of Gasland and Gasland 2: “You’re facing water bankruptcy… You’ve got drought caused by climate change, plus you’re losing water permanently… The impacts in Texas are well studied and widely reported: 25% of fourth graders in the Barnett Shale have asthma…”
Uni Blake, of Hometown Energy Group: “We have to take a step back, why are we quibbling over just 1% of the water?” …”People are not being exposed, there’s no pathway…”
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, sustainability and anti-poverty advocate, founder and CEO of Green For All: “Are we going to sacrifice the health and well-being of people that can least afford it? It’s going to be the kid of color, the senior of color, and the rural white poor people who are most impacted… people can’t afford to buy bottled water!
“The U.S. government gave $8 billion in subsidies to these [oil and gas] corporations last year… Clean energy creates three times as many jobs. We should invest in what makes the most sense.”
Listen to Phaedra, and the rest of the skillfully facilitated roundtable, on MSNBC here. Then don’t forget to call Rick Perry to ask him what the frack is going on in his state: (512) 463-2000. Ask him if Texas really wants “water bankruptcy,” to use Josh’s phrase. Ask him when he’ll stop rolling out the red carpet for an industry that’s battering Texas with a double whammy. And give Phaedra the last word: We should invest in what makes the most sense.