FRASER QUESTIONS GROUNDWATER PUMPING
Austin -- State Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) raised concerns on Wednesday over the pumping of groundwater in connection with oil and gas drilling operations. The issue was brought forward by Fraser during an interim hearing of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources in Austin.
"I have serious concern about how much water is being pumped from the aquifer and how it is going to affect our groundwater availability in the long run," Fraser said. "The state has designated local groundwater districts as the preferred method of monitoring and regulating groundwater, yet these districts have no knowledge or way to track how much water is being used in these operations."
Recent oil and gas exploration from the Barnett Shale and development in the recharge zone of the Trinity aquifer have led to increased pumping of the aquifer. These activities have raised concerns on how groundwater pumping has and will affect water levels in the aquifer.
During testimony received at the hearing on Wednesday, representatives from the Railroad Commission indicated that during the drilling of one oil well, between 1 million and 1.5 million gallons of water are used. During the drilling of a natural gas well--a process called fracturing--an operator might use as much as 5 million gallons of water for one well.
Current law provides an exemption from a groundwater district's permitting and spacing requirements for the drilling of certain water supply wells used solely for the drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well. Because this exemption exists in law, no state agency is monitoring the pumping of groundwater associated with these operations.
Spacing requirements are another essential management tool used by groundwater districts to guard against damage to wells. "Spacing requirements are also not taken into account by these operations," Fraser said. "Individuals adhere to spacing requirements, put in place by their groundwater district, to protect their investment--to protect their well. If wells are not appropriately spaced then a nearby well could be damaged as a result of the amount of water someone is pumping."
The Texas Water Development Board is beginning a study to look at and document the effects of this pumping on water levels in the Trinity aquifer. The study will provide records of how water levels have changed from the additional pumping, estimate future pumping levels from the Trinity aquifer and update the groundwater availability model with the new pumping. The study is expected to be completed by July 2007 with a progress report due by December 2006.
The hearing comes as a result of a request by Senator Fraser to Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst. Fraser requested that the Senate Natural Resources Committee study this issue during the legislative interim. Dewhurst issued the charge to the committee earlier this year (Charge #7).
Senator Fraser represents a 21-county region in the geographic center of the state. He is the Chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. He also sits on the following standing Senate Committees: Natural Resources, State Affairs, and International Relations and Trade.