The very industry that Texas thrives on is threatening its already scarce water supply. During the worst drought and biggest wildfires in the state’s history, the oil and natural gas industry used 13.5 billion gallons of its water in fracking operations.
Hydraulic fracturing, the method of oil and natural gas extraction that involves breaking into underground wells with pressurized liquid, was first used commercially by Halliburton, which should give you an idea of how many levels of scary corruption lurk beneath it. To begin with, it involves injecting toxic chemicals into the earth, often near known drinking water sources. The documentary Split Estate tells stories of citizens in the West suffering from neurological and muscular disorders after fracking wells were built near their homes. But Dick Cheney pushed to exempt oil and gas companies from disclosing the specific chemicals used. It’s taken six years for the E.P.A. to get past that ruling to test drinking water quality in areas near fracking operations. Six years seems like too long a period to wait when public health is on the line, but c ‘est la vie when you’re up against the most powerful companies in the world and their PR campaigns.
Then there’s the water involved. Between 50,000 and 4 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well, and some wells are shown to have used as many as 13 million gallons. What’s more, the water used is freshwater from already declining aquifers, instead of brackish water, which is non-potable and plentiful in the state (not that draining the state’s rivers and lakes is an acceptable alternative). And only 20-25% of the water is recovered, which means the rest is gone forever. That the oil companies are using this much of Texas’ freshwater in the face of record shortages is an unsettling indicator of their collective willingness to damage everything that stands in the way of profits, even if the obstacle is the welfare of their biggest lobbying state. Too big to care, I guess.