Along a parched stretch of La Salle County, Texas, workers last year dug some 700 feet deep into the ground, seeking freshwater. Millions of gallons of it.
The water wouldn’t supply homes or irrigate farms. It was being used by the petroleum giant BP to frack for fossil fuels. The water would be mixed with sand and toxic chemicals and pumped right back underground — forcing oil and gas from the bedrock.
It was a reminder that to strike oil in America, you need water. Plenty of it.
Today, the insatiable search for oil and gas has become the latest threat to the country’s endangered aquifers, a critical national resource that is already being drained at alarming rates by industrial farming and cities in search of drinking water.
The amount of water consumed by the oil industry, revealed in a New York Times investigation, has soared to record levels. Fracking wells have increased their water usage sevenfold since 2011 as operators have adopted new techniques to first drill downward and then horizontally for thousands of feet. The process extracts more fossil fuels but requires enormous amounts of water.
Together, oil and gas operators reported using about 1.5 trillion gallons of water since 2011, much of it from aquifers, the Times found. Fracking a single oil or gas well can now use as much as 40 million gallons of water or more.
These mega fracking projects, called “monster fracks” by researchers, have become the industry norm. They barely existed a decade ago. Now they account for almost two out of every three fracking wells in Texas, the Times analysis found. [Continue reading…]