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Texas drought: frack the water + frack the climate = “dear God help us”

August 21, 2013

Texas drought. Photo: Jay Janner. Published in The Statesman

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?

Rancher Ralph Miller, 79, checks on one of many “stock tanks” of water that are receding due to the severe drought. “I’d say it’s just about as bad as it can get.” Photo: LA Times.

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’sA 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

MSNBC’s Joy Reid. Photo:

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 of Green For All. Phaedra is featured as a “climate hero” in Yes! Magazine.

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.

  1. Joanne permalink
    August 21, 2013 12:26 pm

    It seems absurd that 60-90%of the millions of gallons of water used for fracking can stay trapped underground forever, unable to re-enter the hydrological cycle. It’s even more alarming when we are reminded that only .01%of the Earth’s H2O is fresh water available for animal and human use and consumption. It just seems an unnecessary and risky game to play, especially when there are other energy alternatives available. Projects like the above are single-handedly turning water into a non-renewable resource.

    • Joanne permalink
      August 21, 2013 1:23 pm

      correction .001% even less!

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      August 21, 2013 2:05 pm

      You are right, it is a shockingly small proportion of the world’s total water that is accessible for freshwater fish, animals, and humans to use. I found this passage from an article out of University of Michigan called, “Human Appropriation of the World’s Fresh Water Supply”:

      “Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water (~0.007% of all water on earth) is accessible for direct human uses. This is the water found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and those underground sources that are shallow enough to be tapped at an affordable cost. Only this amount is regularly renewed by rain and snowfall, and is therefore available on a sustainable basis.”

  2. Jack Stephens permalink
    August 21, 2013 1:13 pm

    It does sound like a tragedy, but the fact is that those who are suffering most likely voted wholeheartedly to support the party that places big business above mere human concerns. They asked for it and now they are getting it.

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      August 21, 2013 2:23 pm

      Actually there are so many people suffering that it makes no sense to make such an assumption, I think. Also there is not just one party that places big business above all else.

      For example, the entire Congress voted to approve the Halliburton Loophole in 2005 with barely a whisper of dissent. Yes, VP Cheney, former Halliburton CEO, wrote that law and deserves villification — but we forget the whole Congress voted for it! The Halliburton Loophole is the law that allows high-volume hydraulic fracturing operators to inject poisonous fracking chemicals deep underground all over the U.S. without any regulatory oversight by the EPA, which normally regulates injection wells. Thus Democrats as well as Republicans are responsible for exempting the fracking industry from key requirements in the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Superfund Law and more. It is true the Democratic champions like Diana DeGette have worked incredibly hard ever since to overturn the Halliburton Loophole, but without much headway… yet.

      Regardless of that, no one asks to be poisoned, and no one, including animals as well as people, deserves to have their water drained dry. I agree with Bill McKibben that the “extreme extraction” fossil fuel companies (shale gas and oil fracking, mountaintop removal, Arctic drilling, tar sands…) make up a rogue industry. It’s going to take all of us pulling our ten thousand powers together — our creativity and commitment, our determination and willingness to take risks — to turn that around. That’s more than voting — that means more and more people devoting themselves full time, one way or another, to creating sustainable solutions and to stopping this rogue industry.

  3. August 21, 2013 10:42 pm

    Thanks for posting, Iris. It is heartening to see women of color getting engaged in this issue… the one who is said to be (google Uni Bake) working for the Koch brothers!

    • Iris Marie Bloom permalink
      August 22, 2013 3:20 pm

      Women of color have taken leadership on this issue from the beginning. Blondell Reynolds Brown in Philadelphia City Council has been a leader, with Maria Quinones Sanchez and others voting for each positive resolution to protect the Delaware River Basin from fracking. Very early on, women from the Onandaga Nation, the Wind River Indian Reservation and other frontline communities took strong stands. In Chester, PA, the environmental justice coalition that successfully opposed fracking flowback waste being dumped in the Delaware River included leadership from African American women, whose longstanding community organizing positioned the coalition there to dive into action. So my own view is that women of color have been providing leadership all along but that because of structural racism, it takes mainstream media many years to notice! And even then, it takes excellent reporters like Joy Reid at MSNBC to “help” them notice.

      For a powerful image, look at this photo of Susanne Patles disrupting the seismic fracking “thumper trucks” by praying in the road, putting a line of tobacco down on the road, and blocking the trucks — the photo was taken shortly before she was arrested — this is leadership!

      As to Uni, well, clearly the fracking industry does its best to tokenize women of color — we saw that when the Marcellus Shale Coalition hired Democratic turncoat PA State Senator Tony Williams’ wife to be their Outreach Coordinator in Philadelphia, which she still is! But we know that the vast majority of the army working in PR for fossil fuel corporations, including for Koch industries, are white people. Whether or not Uni believes what she says about fracking, we’ll never know, but there’s a place for her on the side of the people if she gets tired of spouting unbelievable denialist propaganda (like, “there’s no completed pathway,” as if the toxic fracking waste that made the Haney and Voyles families sick and killed their animals… and thousands of other instances of toxic impacts to air, water and soil… could be made to un-exist).

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