Weatherford Democrat

February 23, 2014

NOW HEAR THIS: Water worries, woes and waste


Weatherford Democrat

— 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.

As I recall, it takes on the average 3-5 million gallons of fresh water to frack a Barnett Shale well. While this is a lot of water, no one seems to want to address the fact that most of this water is taken from our ecosystem/water cycle, never to be returned. It is contaminated and pumped thousands of feet underground in disposal wells at extreme pressures, never to be seen or used by man ever again, unless it shows up contaminating a freshwater aquifer.

With 4 percent to 36 percent of all the water used in North Texas being forever removed from available water supplies, how long before this yearly impact becomes a grisly impediment to our very existence? Although it is generally cheaper for producers to pump this wastewater underground rather than reclaim it, this must be stopped. Deliberate depletion of such a precious resource as fresh water, and additionally imposing inevitable risk of aquifer contamination, cannot be further tolerated. This frack water must be reclaimed, and use of disposal wells minimized!

It may be only my opinion, but I saw what I believe was irreparable damage done to our underground aquifers by the drilling industry during 1950s. I feel the potential for an even greater disaster looms if we continue to squander one of the most precious resources on earth, our fresh water supply. Drink deeply – while you still can.

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to nowhearthis@pwhome.com.