A long-awaited, state-sponsored assessment of just how much groundwater is needed to develop current and future Barnett Shale gas wells has produced a wide range of regional estimates and offered few county-specific projections.
The January report was commissioned by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), which selected engineering firms R.W. Harding and Associates Inc. and Freeze and Nichols Inc. to conduct research. The University of Texas at Austin Bureau of Economic Geology also provided input and data.
Many of the 20 Barnett Shale counties examined in the TWDB report were also included in a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality groundwater availability model, which recomended the formation of a 13-county regional groundwater conservation district (GCD) in North Texas.
Though the report’s authors chose to produce low, high and median future gas-related groundwater consumption estimates, county specific projections were left out, presumably making it more difficult for lawmakers to craft locally-tailored conservation districts.
In 2005, the report estimated approximately 4,320 acre-feet of groundwater were used for Barnett Shale drilling operations in the 20-county Barnett Shale study area, about 3 percent of the study area’s total groundwater use. One acre-foot of water is equal to about 325,000 gallons.
On the low end, the report suggested 29,000 acre-feet of groundwater would supply the Barnett gas industry through 2025. The report indicated such a low estimate would represent, “a clear retreat from current annual rate of water use by the industry, corresponding to a large drop in gas price.”
In 2000, the 20-county study area used a estimated total of 142,000 acre-feet of groundwater. The high scenario calls for the gas industry to use a total of 417,000 acre-feet of groundwater between 2007 and 2025.
The report’s authors said the high scenario, “corresponds to sustained high gas prices allowing operators to expand to all economically viable areas and produce most of the accessible resources.”
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