Freshwater in the Eagle Ford Shale — a geological formation that encompasses 30 Texas counties, including Brazos — is being drawn from the aquifers 2.5 times faster than the replenish rate, according to key findings from a Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service study.
As a result, and as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” activity continues to grow within the massive shale, researchers who conducted the study estimated Texas could face a 2.7-trillion-gallon water shortfall by 2060.
Highlights from the report, “Water Use in the Eagle Ford Shale: An Economic and Policy Analysis of Water Supply and Demand,” were recently included in the latest edition of “The Takeaway,” a publication of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy at the Bush School.
Led by Bush School professor James Griffin, researchers analyzed four years of groundwater consumption data from within Eagle Ford, which spans southwest from Brazos County into Webb County.
Researchers concluded each well used for fracking requires about five million gallons of water. Since 2010, more than 200 operators have drilled into shale reserves that had been inaccessible until hydraulic fracturing technology became available.
In “The Takeaway” article, David LeClere, a Bush School graduate who was part of the Eagle Ford study research team, explained that while fracking was established as a contributor to the over-tapping of the aquifers, “irrigation still makes up more than half of all groundwater used in the Eagle Ford.”
The Bush School report includes three policy recommendations to conserve Texas groundwater:
–Require all groundwater users to report any and all groundwater utilized.
–Create economic incentives for companies who use brackish water instead of fresh groundwater.
–Establish a definition for groundwater property rights on a per-acre ownership basis.
In the executive summary of the Bush School report, researchers acknowledged the last recommendation was the most “heterodox” of the three.
The researchers state in the summary that if the third recommendation were adopted, “the owners of the water rights would be able to sell their water as they would any other resource, and the market would adjust the price of water to an economically efficient level.”
In addition to Griffin and LeClere, the Bush School study research team included Benton Arnett, Kevin Healy, Zhongnan Jiang, Leslie McLaughlin, Joey Roberts and Maxwell Steadman.