An Introduction to Fracking in Texas

Clean Water Action is working in partnership with other state and local organizations to bring stronger regulations to the hydraulic fracturing industry in Texas. No state has more hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations under way than ours. Fracking is the process of pumping millions of gallons of water (loaded with sand and chemicals) thousands of feet into the earth at extremely high pressure in order to break apart layers of shale to allow pockets of oil and natural gas to be brought to the surface.  The process, pioneered in Texas in the 1990s, is usually accompanied by horizontal drilling and is poorly regulated. Impacts on public health, the environment and property values can be dramatic.

Damage to our water tops the list of fracking's harmful impacts. Each frack well typically requires 6 million and as much as 13 million gallons of water, not counting the water used to clean the sand. In Texas, frackers are not required to name the source of this water or recycle it—something our drought-stricken state can ill afford. Along with fossil fuels, fracking also pulls water up from deep beneath the earth's surface — water that is 8 times as salty as the ocean. This ‘produced water’ is mixed with the chemical-laden ‘frack’ water and stored in open pits where the chemicals easily go airborne or leach into groundwater. Much of it is trucked away and injected into old oil wells, where it once again can potentially leach into groundwater. Fracking is being done near, and in some places, literally beneath people’s homes. In some cases, shafts drilled vertically into the ground to make horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing possible have contaminated ground water and rendered the well water from nearby property owners dangerous to drink.

The toxic chemicals used in fracking are a major concern, yet too little is know about them and their disposal is poorly regulated. A state law passed in 2011 requiring disclosure of chemicals frackers use contains loopholes that allowed more than 19,000 exemptions as 'trade secrets' in 2012. Every foot drilled creates 1.2 barrels of solid waste, high in heavy metal and chemical content, and this solid waste is often dispersed as “fertilizer” on “land farms” where it can run off into nearby streams or seep into groundwater. Frack wells also spew toxins in the air, risking the health of workers onsite and making it more difficult for cities like San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth to meet health-based, federal clean air standards.

It is misleading to call natural gas the cleaner “bridge” fuel that will carry us from our coal burning past into our solar and wind-driven future, as industry often claims. When you tally the emissions that escape from the wells, from the thousands of trucks that serve these wells, and from the diesel engines used to power the rigs and force the frack fluid underground, fracking spews by some accounts as much climate-changing pollution into our atmosphere as coal. Renewable energy on the other hand includes none of these drawbacks, and is cost competitive now.