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Texas Fracking Leaves Bone-Dry Farms, Dead Cattle, Thirsty People

Fracking boom sucks away precious water from beneath the ground, leaving cattle dead, farms bone-dry and people thirsty.


In Mertzon and Barnhart in western Texas, the worst drought in two generations is choking the water supply. Water shortages are raising tensions between locals and the fracking industry. Drilling for shale gas uses up to 8m gallons of water each time a well is fracked.

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for The Guardian:

Three years of drought, decades of overuse and now the oil industry's outsize demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers. And climate change is making things worse.

In Texas alone, about 30 communities could run out of water by the end of the year, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Nearly 15 million people are living under some form of water rationing, barred from freely sprinkling their lawns or refilling their swimming pools. In Barnhart's case, the well appears to have run dry because the water was being extracted for shale gas fracking.

The town — a gas station, a community hall and a taco truck – sits in the midst of the great Texan oil rush, on the eastern edge of the Permian basin.

A few years ago, it seemed like a place on the way out. Now McGuire said she can see nine oil wells from her back porch, and there are dozens of RVs parked outside town, full of oil workers.

But soon after the first frack trucks pulled up two years ago, the well on McGuire's property ran dry.

While fracking is a powerful drain on water supplies, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, argues that fracking isn't the only reason Texas is going dry. Neither is the drought. These latest blows to the water system come after decades of overuse by ranchers, cotton farmers, and fast-growing -- and thirsty -- cities.

"We have large urban centres sucking water out of west Texas to put on their lands. We have a huge agricultural community, and now we have fracking which is also using water," she said. And then there is climate change.

West Texas has a long history of recurring drought, but under climate change, the south-west has been experiencing record-breaking heatwaves, further drying out the soil and speeding the evaporation of water in lakes and reservoirs. Underground aquifers failed to regenerate. "What happens is that climate change comes on top and in many cases it can be the final straw that breaks the camel's back, but the camel is already overloaded," said Hayhoe.

Larger cities in West Texas are resorting to having water delivered in tankers, drilling deeper for new wells, or running pipeline to new water sources further away, these are expensive solutions that beyond the reach of small rural areas like Barnhart.

'"We barely make enough money to pay our light bill and we're supposed to find $300,000 to drill a water well?" said John Nanny, an official with the town's water supply company."

Others hope for once dreaded floods and hurricanes to replenish the aquifer.

"We've got to get floods. We've got to get a hurricane to move up in our country and just saturate everything to replenish the aquifer," he said. "Because when the water is gone. That's it. We're gone."

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