Weatherford Democrat

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February 23, 2014

NOW HEAR THIS: Water worries, woes and waste

By LARRY M. JONES

Growing up as a product of the “1950’s Drought of Record,” I suppose I may have become overly sensitive to the issue of water availability and times of drought. Perhaps I am suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder incurred from lack of rainfall, resultant crop failures and hard times. This was the time that defined the “pore farm.”

Hardly a day goes by that I do not read or hear reports in the media about either negative or positive aspects of the exploitation of the shale oil and gas resources that have been ongoing for more than a decade throughout the nation. While it is wonderful to have this huge oil and gas resource, it comes with a price. With recent drilling activity here in Texas, most of the negative issues center around one single element ­­– water.

The key to being able to exploit this enormous domestic energy supply depends on a technique developed by early wildcatter and oil man George Mitchell. His development of procedures for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of the Barnett Shale formation here in North Texas opened a new door.

Releasing gas trapped in shale or rock formations has always been a part of the drilling business. I recall early operators during the 1950s would “shoot” the gas wells to stimulate the gas flow. This entailed setting off massive nitroglycerin blasts deep underground in the Strawn formation. As a result, I would estimate that locally during this time of the Drought of the ‘50s, at least a third of the wells in this area and over half the flowing springs went dry – not from lack of rain, but from damage to underground aquifers.

I recently saw an article in the Star-Telegram addressing the amount of water consumed by oil and gas operations. It estimated that gas wells require 4 percent of this region’s water, with figures going as high as 36 percent of all water used annually in Montague County, the northern most county in the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.

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