Texas Requires Frac Cocktail Disclosure

New rules proposed by the Texas Railroad Commission requiring the disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing went into effect in the Lone Star State February 1, 2012 for all initial drilling permits issued after that date. The rules were adopted in response to a bill approved by the Texas Legislature in May 2011. The rules require public posting on the chemicals used on fracfocus.org designed to that purpose.

Texas joins a growing number of states imposing disclosure requires on fracking fluids in response to public concern about the use of toxic substances and their potential for groundwater contamination. The states has an interest in facing these public concerns to avoid what are expected to be more onerous rules from US EPA which is eager to get into this arena and preempt state efforts. To date Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming have adopted similar disclosure rules.

The new Texas rules also address a companion water use issue that has been raising concerns especially in arid states over the implications of the large volume of water used for hydraulic fracturing. In a growing number of situations fracking is being done with reclaimed wastewater effluent where it is available rather than potable drinking water to mitigate those concerns.  A typical fracked well may use from 1 million to 5 million gallons of water over three to five days according to the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association.  Industry sources reported that less than two percent of Texas water resources are used for fracturing despite years of growing use of the procedure in the state.  The total water use for fracturing is likely substantially less than the normal leakage rates in many municipal water system pipes.

The Texas Water Development Board commissioned a study to update is analysis of the volume of water used in Texas for fracking. While available data is rapidly outdated by the growth of unconventional drilling in Texas shale plays the study confirmed the industry estimate that between 1 and 2 percent of Texas water resources are used for these purposes, but the amount of water used for fracking is “expected to increase significantly through 2020,” according to the state water plan published this month.

In 2008 (latest year with complete information), the study estimate that ~160 thousand acre-feet (AF) of water was used in the mining industry including 35.8 thousand AF for fracing wells (mostly in the Barnett Shale/Fort Worth area) and ~21.0 thousand AF was used for other purposes in the oil and gas industry with higher demand in the Permian Basin in West Texas.

By contrast the coal industry in Texas used 20.0 thousand AF for lignite extraction in Central to East Texas. The aggregates industry used 71.6 thousand AF mostly around major metropolitan areas where construction activities were highest. Another 11.0 thousand AF was used for other industrial sand production (~80% of total).

The water analysis study found that the Texas overall water use will likely peak in the 2020–2030 decade at ~305 thousand AF when oil and gas unconventional resources production will start to decrease in terms of water use. Both coal and aggregates are slated to keep increasing, more strongly for aggregates.  Most observers see that as a reasonable estimate of the useful economic life of the unconventional oil and gas plays coming to market today.