AUSTIN (AP) — Oil and gas drilling companies using hydraulic fracturing in Texas say they are recycling more water than ever before thanks to a change in state rules, Texas' three railroad commissioners told two House committees Monday.
But exactly how much water is being conserved or reused during production is unknown, according to the regulators who oversee the oil and gas industry, because the companies aren't required to report those figures.
During the commonly used process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, water and other substances are injected at high pressures into rock in order to extract oil and gas. The rule change removed restrictions for companies in the permitting process for recycling water on their own leases.
Railroad Commission Chairwoman Christi Craddick told members of the House Energy and Natural Resources committees it was adopted in 2013 to encourage more water conservation. She said companies report recycling more, but told lawmakers there was no set target of how much recycling should occur.
There are "no reporting requirements in place," she said, adding that the commission relies on companies to self-report recycling efforts on a voluntary basis.
Dallas Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia asked commissioners how they would know if their rule was working without a set goal.
"In order to be able to measure success, you have to start with a baseline," he said.
Craddick said that industry leaders requested the changes and were starting to recycle water and experiment with conservation on their own, anyway. She added that the rule change was "the carrot, not the stick, approach" and continued, "If companies are allowed to be innovative, they usually go above and beyond."
Because of the amount of water needed to frack oil and gas, some companies have started using brackish water instead of freshwater, state and industry officials said. Canadian drilling company GASFRAC — which recently filed for bankruptcy protection — had for years fracked wells in South Texas using a waterless process, Craddick said.
According to the Railroad Commission, the amount of water needed to frack a well varies across the state, from 1.2 million gallons to complete one vertical well in the Barnett Shale in North Texas to 3.6 million gallons in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.
Water used for fracking and mining represents about 1 percent of statewide water use, according to the commission.
Commissioners also touted a second rule change from 2013 that addresses well construction in an effort to better protect Texans' groundwater. According to Commissioner David Porter, the commission has not received any reports of groundwater contamination caused by fracking.
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