As drought rolls on, cities around Fort Worth limit water use for fracking

Posted on: August 30th, 2011 by Patrick Michels 1 Comment

In the urban areas at the heart of the Barnett Shale natural gas boom, cities coping with the second-worst drought in state history are trying out new ways to limit water sales to the industry, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Monday.

Fort Worth is encouraging drillers to draw water from a line carrying reclaimed, non-drinkable water, Arlington is considering charging more for water destined for fracking wells, and Grand Prairie has quit selling water to oil and gas producers altogether:

Until conditions improve, drillers have not been allowed to buy municipal water for fracking wells and are required to request a permit or variance to buy water while the city works to keep its water usage below 45 million gallons a day. There is a concern that fracking usage could cause a drop in water pressure and the reserves needed for fire protection, Grand Prairie Public Works Director Ron McCuller said.

“We’re asking them to delay, and we’re restricting it as long as the water system is stressed,” McCuller said.

Instead of delaying fracking during the drought, companies can truck in water from other sources. But this month, Arlington cited Chesapeake Energy for trucking water it bought at one of its south Arlington well sites to a Grand Prairie well site, which is against city ordinance. Arlington is recommending the maximum $2,000 fine for the violation.

Arlington’s City Council is also considering upping the cost of water for its biggest commercial customers from $4.75 per 1,000 gallons up to $6. That would bring it in line with Arlington, which charges $6.02, and Grand Prairie’s $5.81 — almost twice what regular homeowners pay, the Star-Telegram reported.

“Most cities do charge a higher water rate, double or more, for gas drilling operations,” the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council’s Ed Ireland told the newspaper. “They are certainly paying their share or more.”

Grand Prairie’s director of public works told the Star-Telegram his city had decided to cut off sales to the natural gas industry out of concern for the fire protection reserves and water pressure.

Grand Prairie has also restricted “non-essential” water use like filling up swimming pools to help manage during the drought.

While fracking a well requires 3 to 5 million gallons in the Barnett Shale, Ireland stressed it’s a small fraction of the total water use, compared to other comercial water users nearby.

But the story quotes Arlington residents who are concerned about the amount of water hydrofracking removes from the active water cycle — only about 20 percent of water from frack wells comes back up, and most is later injected into separate disposal wells, not recycled.

As the Texas Independent has reported, the combination of the drought and the industry’s growth has created challenges for managers of rural groundwater districts, where much industry use is exempt from regulation.

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