Ranchers say water for fracking isn’t the problem

DILLEY — The ranchers talked about their concerns following a noon talk Thursday by Robert Traylor, a geologist who is an advisor to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality whose job will shift to the Texas Railroad Commission on Sept. 1.

Traylor spent more than an hour explaining how hydraulic fracturing works to a group of about 40 ranchers and landowners. Most own land in the Eagle Ford shale of South Texas, where hydraulic fracturing of wells is commonplace.

Traylor sought to assuage concerns ranchers may have about contamination of the water wells and groundwater. Vertical wells protect aquifer water by using steel casing and cement.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, occurs far below the aquifer as the drilling turns a corner, going horizontally through the shale. Explosive charges are used in horizontal drilling to create small figures in the rock to release oil and gas.

The industry uses sophisticated listening devices to monitor the explosive charges used in fracking to make fissures in the shale. “So we know when and where rock is breaking,” Traylor said, and fracking occurs far below the level of the aquifer.

It takes an average of 5 million gallons of water to frack a well, according to a study by the South Central Texas Regional Water Planning Group.

Ranchers said they found the session valuable, yet water use remains a worry.

“My biggest concern,” said Colice Watts, who owns a recreation ranch in Dimmitt County, “is the level of the water table. The land down here is no good without water. I’ve heard of wells going dry, but who do you blame? I just think that in a drought like this, we don’t need to be using more and more water.”

Traylor said Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer is vast and has ample water. He said drilling companies contract with landowners to use their water for fracking, or they purchase it elsewhere and have it trucked in.

Yet increasing use of water has Karl Kinsel, a landowner in LaSalle County who’s executive director of the Texas Deer Association, worried about whether there will be enough water for cattle and wildlife.

Kinsel said he’s aware that far more water is used for cultivation of crops than is used to frack wells, but he fears use of surface water eventually could be restricted. “That would change what water is available for surface use,” Kinsel said.

Mike Mahoney, executive director of the Evergreen Underground Conservation District, agreed that there’s plenty of water in the Carrizo aquifer. There’s no curtailment of water usage now, he said following the talk.

The drought is the immediate threat, he said. “The big question now is now long the drought will last,” Mahoney said.

Traylor’s talk was sponsored by the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Frio County.