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Torin Halsey, Wichita Falls Times Record News

Perry renews disaster proclamation

Profile image for By Christian McPhate
By Christian McPhate

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday renewed the state’s disaster proclamation for exceptional drought conditions.

The authorization allows the governor to use all available resources of state government to cope with a disaster. He can also temporarily reassign resources, personnel or functions of state executive departments and agencies as well as commandeer or use any private property to cope with a disaster.

Counties affected by the state of disaster include Denton, Dallas and Tarrant as well as 90 other counties across the state.

“Significantly low rainfall has resulted in declining reservoir and aquifer levels, threatening water supplies and delivery systems in many parts of the state,” Perry wrote in a news release. “These drought conditions have reached historic levels and continue to pose an imminent threat to public health, property and economy.”

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon warned last year that Texas could be in the midst of the worst drought in history, one more devastating than the drought of record in the 1950s.

In February 2013, Nielsen-Gammon told the Texas House and Senate natural resources committees, “No corner of the state has been spared dry conditions. The drought persists at historic levels. It is the multi-year droughts that strain water supplies, and there is still a good chance this will end up being the drought of record for most of the state.”

Perry’s renewed proclamation comes at a time when Texas tops the charts of highest gross withdrawals from shale gas wells in America, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “Today in Energy” report.

The report states that Texas shale gas production significantly increased between 2007 and 2013 with most of its production growth coming from the Texas-Haynesville, Eagle Ford and Barnett shales that underlie areas affected by extreme drought conditions.

Alex Mills, president of Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, pointed out that irrigation on a statewide scale accounts for 59 percent of water usage, compared to the 1 percent used by the oil and gas industry.

“It seems apparent to me that water usage by oil and gas industry is a fraction of all other industrial sectors, including livestock,” Mills said.

Researchers at the University of Texas studied the impact of water production for shale-gas development to quantify net water consumption by the oil and gas industry, in a report titled “Water Use for Shale-Gas Production in Texas,” published March 2012 in Environmental Science & Technology.

“Despite the low overall net water use fraction, impacts of water use can be much greater at smaller spatial scales,” researchers wrote. “Projected net water use at peak time could more than double net water use in Texas rural counties, where current demand is low.”

Jean-Philippe Nicot, a research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology at UT, said that the shale currently receiving the most play by the oil and gas industry is in Eagle Ford, a shale formation already stressed by irrigation.

“Basically, the key thing we are saying is, ‘Yeah, we are in the drought, but it doesn’t matter,’” Nicot said. “We are mining water which is not being recharged in the Eagle Ford.”

Nicot stated in “Source and Fate of Hydraulic Fracturing Water in the Barnett Shale: A Historical Perspective,” published in January, that the source of water used in hydraulic fracturing was difficult to access compared to the amount of water used because no regulation requires reporting of water sources.

The amount of water used, Nicot said, is also based on operators’ own reports to the Texas Railroad Commission.

“The Eagle Ford is being impacted,” he said. “People are using it, so we are depleting it faster. There is a lot of water, but it’s limited. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Is it the best use of the water?’ That type of question is not for me to answer. That’s politics’ responsibility.”

Nicot has also found that increased water use in hydraulic fracturing is related to increased energy production.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Minority Staff Report agrees with proponents’ analysis and reported in “Setting the Record Straight: Hydraulic Fracturing and America’s Energy Revolution” that the energy boom has created and sustained millions of jobs, not only in the oil and natural gas industry but also in the manufacturing sector.

The Republican members’ report stated that the energy boom has provided the nation with energy security and geopolitical strength while lowering domestic prices of energy used to power homes and vehicles.

“[The energy boom has also] led to greater environmental benefits and stability, which have buffered our citizens from the devastating energy poverty impacts being felt in European countries,” the committee reported.

Natural gas provides 24 percent of the energy in the U.S., according to the National Research Council, a private nonprofit institution that advises the federal government on science and technology policy.

The annual volume of consumption of natural gas is projected to rise from 22.5 trillion cubic feet in 2009 to about 23.5 trillion cubic feet in 2030, according to the council’s website.

In March 2011, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) was introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 1084) and Senate (S.B. 587). The bill would require companies to disclose the chemicals injected underground and eliminate hydraulic fracturing operations’ exemption from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

S.B. 587 died in a previous session of Congress and was referred to committee. The bill was reintroduced by the House as H.R. 1921 in May 2013 and in the Senate in June 2013 as S.B. 1135.

H.R. 1921 was introduced by Democrat Diana DeGette, a representative for Colorado’s 1st Congressional District, and S.B. 1135 was submitted by Sen. Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

Neither measure is expected to pass.

CHRISTIAN McPHATE can be reached at 940-566-6878 and on Twitter at @writerontheedge.