In the midst of the second-worst drought in Texas history, towns across the state are going to extreme measures to cope, capping residential water use, and limiting the number of days households can water their lawns. Earlier this week, the West Texas town of Kemp ran out of water. In Big Spring, the local water district is building a plant to recycle treated wastewater back into the drinking supply.
But oil and gas producers are injecting millions of gallons of freshwater into the ground at a time, with hydraulic fracturing jobs in every corner of the state, from once-abandoned oil fields in West Texas to the South Texas boom towns of the Eagle Ford Shale.
Even while downplaying risks of water contamination, industry officials have said the state’s water shortage could choke Texas’ growing natural gas industry, and some operators have begun preparing for tighter regulation of their water usage.
But with a patchwork of state agencies and local water conservation districts responsible for Texas’ water use — and state laws that exempt much of the oil and gas industry — it’s a mystery just how much water is being pumped into the ground for hydrofracking, or how the state could limit industry’s water use.