Texas towns run out of water due to fracking

Programming note: I’ll be on The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen, WNHN FM today at 12:30 pm ET talking about NSA (Pentagon) spying. Tune in if you can. Internet link here. [Update: Interview complete. MP3 file here. Start playing at the 30-minute mark. It was a great discussion.] Thanks.

Put simply, there are towns in Texas where you turn on the tap, and nothing comes out for days. Why? Fracking.

You knew this was going to happen, and you knew it was going to happen in the desert-like South and Southwest. And whether the God-fearing folks in rural Texas knew it or not, when they voted for all those Drill-Baby-Drill Republicans (and Democrats who seek power by imitating them), they voted themselves out of water.

The Guardian (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

A Texan tragedy: ample oil, no water

Fracking boom sucks away precious water from beneath the ground, leaving cattle dead, farms bone-dry and people thirsty

Beverly McGuire saw the warning signs before the town well went dry: sand in the toilet bowl, the sputter of air in the tap, a pump working overtime to no effect. But it still did not prepare her for the night last month when she turned on the tap and discovered the tiny town where she had made her home for 35 years was out of water.

Nice lead. Here’s the meat of the story:

Across the south-west, residents of small communities like Barnhart [Texas] are confronting the reality that something as basic as running water, as unthinking as turning on a tap, can no longer be taken for granted. Three years of drought, decades of overuse and now the oil industry’s outsize demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers. And climate change is making things worse.

In Texas alone, about 30 communities could run out of water by the end of the year, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Nearly 15 million people are living under some form of water rationing, barred from freely sprinkling their lawns or refilling their swimming pools. In Barnhart’s case, the well appears to have run dry because the water was being extracted for shale gas fracking.

Do read. There are stories of wells going dry after the fracking crews and equipment arrive, and no one cares because they hook up to the town supply. Then that runs dry too.

My ol’ Uncle Straight Talk would call that “being good servants of their overlords — and paying the price.” But I’m not that cruel. Yes, they voted for fracking, but so did Obama; and yes they (likely) voted for Texas-style cruelty to the Unwashed Other. But there are good people there as well, and the whole state is going to suffer.

As the Guardian headline says — A Texas Tragedy: Ample Oil, No Water.

I noted a while back that no one really understands the social chaos that the combo of climate catastrophe and increased dependence on carbon (yes, we’re increasing our dependence) will cause. Lack of water is a first-order consequence; social and political chaos — ultimately, large-scale population migration and political ungovernability — are inevitable third-order and fourth-order consequences. And yes, I do mean inevitable, if we don’t stop carbon now.

This is a small town; wait until it’s someplace like Houston, or Albuquerque. People will not be pleased; the national news will take note; and the Pentagon (sorry, Google and the NSA) will be listening very closely. A bad brew for cooperative (non-billionaire-driven) solutions.

Some water owners are selling to frackers; some are angry water is being sold

You can see the inherent social conflict in this story. Some people think it’s in a community’s interest to protect the entire water supply for the public good:

[R]esidents in town complained, they were forced to live under water rationing. “I’ve got dead trees in my yard because I haven’t been able to water them,” said Glenda Kuykendall. “The state is mandating our water system to conserve water but why?… Getting one oil well fracked takes more water than the entire town can drink or use in a day.”

Yet people in position to make a bundle selling their water to frackers are, well, trying to make a bundle selling their water. The guy speaking below is making up to $36,000 a month selling water on his land to the frackers, because, after all, it’s his water, right?

[Baxter] rejected the idea there should be any curbs on selling water during the drought. “People use their water for food and fibre. I choose to use my water to sell to the oil field,” he said. “Who’s taking advantage? I don’t see any difference.”

What’s more important? Protecting the private profit of the predators (and protecting the opportunity of a few to be one themselves), or guarding a public resource for the public good? This dynamic is now playing out for real in rural Texas.

Put differently, “freedom” has now become a lab course for those happy Reagan-Bush-Perry voters. I wonder what option they’ll conclude is in their best interest. (And I wonder how many of their towns will sink beneath the oil-soaked billionaire-financed waves while they impotently conclude it.)

This isn’t just a fracking story, it’s a climate story and a sprawl story as well

One last thought. This isn’t just a fracking story. The water loss in the great Southwest has many sources, many of them related as much to population growth and urban sprawl as well as to climate-induced drought:

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, argues fracking is not the only reason Texas is going dry – and nor is the drought. The latest shocks to the water system come after decades of overuse by ranchers, cotton farmers, and fast-growing thirsty cities. “We have large urban centres sucking water out of west Texas to put on their lands. We have a huge agricultural community, and now we have fracking which is also using water,” she said. And then there is climate change.

Notice the list of causes. Many competing interests, many reasons to use water, less water to be used, and … no real ability for coordinated public policy. Again, not good.

Ultimately, this is a political problem, isn’t it? The inability to coordinate public policy for the public good guarantees unjudicated pitched battles among the competing interests — with the big dog being billionaires and their stranglehold on political processes. The water will eventually run out; it just will. What happens to Texas then?

As I said, please do read. There’s more about the climate aspect, as well as tales of other towns, some as large as Las Cruces. A terrific article, and a frightening foretaste of what’s likely to be way too common, way too soon.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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69 Responses to “Texas towns run out of water due to fracking”

  1. essasime says:

    Thanks for the link Jim!

  2. cgoehling says:

    Since they pump water from west Texas to east Texas to use in fracking, why not pump the ocean to the oil well site?

  3. will says:

    All planned from day 1.

  4. Just_the_guy_u_hate says:

    it is called “de-saltation plant”. San Diego has one and it saves them Billions. I cost A LOT!!!!!!!!!!! but at least your people will have water.

  5. ArthurH says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Ed is just a put-on. He is burlesking the worst of Republican/Tea Party thought. Nobody can be that poor a speller and get out of the fourth grade. And he seems to be deliberately trying to provoke us by doing a modern imitation of Johnny Caron’s Floyd Turbo: American character, the fellow who did mock editorial replies defending everything from air pollution to leaking nuclear reactors. The character he is portraying in his comments is no more real than Mortimer Snerd or Knucklehead Smiff. Bravo! Very funny!

  6. DavidChicago says:

    I might want to feel bad for these people, but then I remember that they elected guys who want to do away with environmental protections and that Texas leads the nation in anti-everything politicians. Then I realize I don’t feel bad for them, I figure (by their own logic) they got what they asked for. And no, you can’t come and use some of MY water.

  7. Rixar13 says:

    We can sell you some but, it’s very expensive….

  8. BillFromDover says:

    Your average Texan Evangelical Christian bagger would rather die of thirst than admit to anything proving their ideology wrong… especially by educated trained liberal scientists.

    Too bad, that they are more than willing to take the rest of the population down an arid drain with themselves.

    And the beat goes on.

  9. BrotherRog says:

    Curiously — both cattle and fracking produce methane — not sure which is worse for aggravating global warming. I’d guess that fracking is the worse between the two as it can release massive bubbles of the gas.

  10. Bridgett Cash says:

    I’d be really careful about accusing other’s of not thinking.

  11. Michael J says:

    Wow that’s crazy. Well if anyone needs free advice for computer help…

  12. citizen_spot says:

    Yes, you are right. My brief moment of optimistic delusion this morning was fueled by many cups of coffee, and has now worn off.

  13. David Allen says:

    Promised Land

  14. Jim says:

    Hi Gaius,

    Here is a link to Chomsky’s short video about understanding how the media uses language. It is here that Chomsky states that democracy is those governments run by the business class: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmoXze-Higc

    The others–liberty, freedom, free market–I added. By the way, whenever you read an article about the liberty of the rich, substitute the word money, and see if the argument becomes clearer.

    As to the role of serotonin and cortisol, here is a link to Lionel Tiger explaining the appeal of religion by using data from chimps: high status chimps have a lot of serotonin. A religious sermon for the believer elevates serotonin; challenge the beliefs and he gets a dose of cortisol, which makes the believer feel shitty and then angry. I believe elites want to maximize their own serotonin levels and maximize cortisol levels for non-elites. Essentially, I felt great when you feel shitty.

    Here is the link to the Tiger video: http://bigthink.com/videos/the-brain-creates-religion

    My degrees are in history and the only way I’ve been able to understand or make sense out of power and the concentration of power–elite culture, is to assume that being elite has its own psychological state. That is, elites have a different brain chemistry based on feeling superior. Superiority is a state of being. Superiority creates a brain chemistry quite different from those who do not have their control over resources.

    Elites don’t want wealth for its own sake. They want high status; they want to control others. When I was studying history, I had no way of making that argument quantitatively. If I were back in graduate school now, I could. I’d argue that deference elevates serotonin. Further, I’d argue that the harsher non-elites are treated, the greater the deference. The more pain the social inferior suffers, the greater the serotonin release for the oppressor. There are, of course, further distinctions to be made. But, by and large, I think there is enough research out there to make this statement:

    Elites control resources not only to have a materially comfortable life, but more important, to keep others in a state of dependence whereby elites can compel deference from them. I believe Krugman said a while ago that bankers just don’t want money; they want deference. I felt a little vindicated because some of my professors had said my ideas were too abstract. Other were very supportive.

    I also believe Progressives won’t get very far for very long until they realize that money is just means to the real end: deference. This is why elites can never have enough. There serotonin rush doesn’t just depend on having a lot; more to the point, it is depends on others having less. The less non-elites have, the more deference elites can get. That is why elites hate the middle class: we were secure enough not to give them deference. They got our labor; they got more money. But, they didn’t get a lot of deference. More briefly put: this is about relative wealth. Not wealth.

    Forgive the redundancies. I wrote this on the fly and in a hurry.
    Let me know if you have any other questions.

  15. Indigo says:

    A 15 or 20 minute drive will get me about 5 miles here in Orlando, all the way to the nearest Barnes & Noble.

  16. TheOriginalLiz says:

    We’re giving welfare to corporate farms, I’m sure we’ll find a way to provide generously (courtesy of the taxpayer, of course) for those reps who have been deprived of districts for the sake of the good of the country, by fracking.

  17. GaiusPublius says:

    Do you have a link, Jim?


  18. BeccaM says:

    I was going to mention Moriarty, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted your surname mentioned. It’s not that far from here — maybe 15-20 minutes drive, and in New Mexico, that’s hardly any distance at all.

    My sister-in-law and her family live there, by the way. Just south of town.

    Seriously cool name there, Dr. Moriarty. I’m actually jealous. ;-)

  19. mirror says:

    Point taken.

  20. mirror says:

    I don’t really understand what you are trying to say.

    I’m saying (racist) gun nut ideology is more prevalent in the south to the point where it controls public policy, law enforcement, and the court system. The means when the inevitable climate change migration happens the percentage of dangerous racist gun nuts in the refugees coming to WA (radiation notwithstanding), will vastly exceed the percentage of dangerous racist gun nuts we have here right now. The same can be said for the percentage of wacked out creationists and climate change idealists.

    Are you saying I should overlook the harm done by the South sending more climate change denialists to congress than other regions because the South sends a larger percentage of the members of our armed forces? The way I see it, if corruption, deliberately poor educational systems, victim ideology, and racism had not been suppressing economic development in the South for the last hundred or more years, there might be other options besides the military for those young people.

  21. Indigo says:

    Much further east. I was talking about Moriarty, New Mexico. I hear they’re still in the area and have a large cattle operation nearby. No relation, as far as I know. But I’m also not related to Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, the evil Dr. Moriarty, although I got plenty of mileage out of that one when I was teaching College English.

  22. Jim says:

    Hi Gaius,

    Just saw a Noam Chomsky video where he translated corporate language to English:

    Democracy: a state that supports western capitalism.

    He had a few more, but I’d like to add a few more:

    Liberty = money
    As is in a Koch brother saying, “I will always work to protect my liberty.” Translation, I will always work to protect my money.

    Freedom = ability to make as much money as I want, legally or illegally.
    As is Chevron saying, “We will always work to protect the freedom of private enterprise.”
    Translation, We will always work to protect the ability of private enterprise to make as much money–hoard the means of exchange–as possible, legally or illegally.

    Free Market = the laws and institutions that allow the few to monopolize everything.
    Everyone = the one percent
    As is Jamie Dimon saying, “The free market ensures that everyone gets a fair shake.”
    Translation: Laws that allow the few to monopolize the money supply allow the one percent to have everything.

    Respect = deference
    As in, “My success should be respected.”
    Translation, Because I am rich I am superior, so the commoners should grovel before me and give me great deference.

    Deference gives a serotonin rush; the 1% are addicted to it. Thus, rational argumentation is irrelevant to them; only the “fix” matters. They are addicts. This is what most people don’t get. All the smoke, all the mirrors, all the double speak, all the wealth is for the few to get one thing: deference and obedience so to satisfy their serotonin addiction and to ensure everyone else is flooded with cortisol. Cortisol is one of the neurotransmitters associated with feeling low, inferior, and bad. The crux of the 1% is this: they want to feel really really good (serotonin) and they get it by making everyone else feel really really bad (cortisol et al). That is why the odds are that the richer someone gets, the crueler they become. It is a paired set.

  23. William Kenneth Wright says:

    dont think they would care to, just move to another southern state

  24. William Kenneth Wright says:

    mirror dont bad talk southerners, guess what 40 to 45 % are from southern states that serve our military. so live in your fantasy world as you see it, oh my facts are from the DOD that is Dept. of Defense just in case you didnt know so, If I WRITE ANYTHING I will back them up with facts

  25. William Kenneth Wright says:

    here is some intel the ones fracking got the same PR group saying that fracking is safe is the ones who helped the Tobacca company saying smoking was safe also, when a company hides behind saying that the chemicals they use is trade secret is sure up to something, her is a list of 78 chemicals they use one you will know it is anti freeze


  26. Hue-Man says:

    “The US government continues to subsidise its cotton farmers – $24bn (£15bn) over the past 10 years – despite the World Trade Organisation ruling some of these subsidies illegal. And when the WTO
    backed Brazil’s case that the subsidies were damaging, the US
    government simply offered to pay subsidies to Brazilian farmers too.” http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/may/24/american-cotton-subsidies-illegal-obama-must-act

    It’s just as well they’ve run out of water because fracking has contaminated the water table with toxic chemicals. BTW, living on Canada’s Wet Coast, I laughed about Texans freaking out over water rationing; outside watering here is limited to days corresponding to house number (odd/even) and is not permitted between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. It’s just as well, since this July set a record of having ZERO precipitation for the entire month and August has only had a few sprinkles.

  27. BeccaM says:

    Hmm… Well, I live just east of Tijeras, if that’s any indication. About halfway to Edgewood (which is where we do most of our grocery shopping).

  28. Steve_in_RI says:

    Becca, you knock it out of the park again!

  29. ohiorick says:

    This speaks to why: 1.) We Dems can’t pull punches on this issue (or any of the other issues we care about), as in, we have to shout at the tops of our lungs what’s happening and what will happen and 2.) We have to primary or vote out of office Dems who finagle and triangulate because:

    When the poop hits the fan, those folks in TX and elsewhere will be saying, “A pox on both their houses,” because they’ll remember that the GOP doubled-down against getting folks water but they’ll also remember that the Dems kind of, sort of went along, you know, so as not to cause a scene.

    Unless and until we cause a scene, we can expect to get the same results at the states’ level we’re getting now.

  30. karmanot says:

    Excellent Gaius, just excellent. Now that the first phases of our dystopian climate disaster is unfolding, the human stories which will seal our general fates are coming forth as a herald.

  31. Indigo says:

    I like that part of New Mexico. You live just a bit west, I’m guessing, of a town that carries my family name. I was there once just to see it.

  32. tsuki says:

    Think they are going to move to Washington state after the radiation from Fukushima hits in five years? It ain’t just Texas.

  33. Ed Ramirez says:

    I could not agree more, there are many little things that can make big improvements. I have designed gray water systems that reduced consumption by 40% Nice hearing from you.

  34. BeccaM says:

    Before we bought our current house, we spent some time researching the aquifer formations in the area, especially since we now use well water. Being on the other side of the Sandia range, we’re in a completely separate geologic zone, and we draw from the Estancia basin.

    (BTW, we also have extensive rainwater catchment here, to the tune of nearly 2300 gallons, and plan to keep adding more.)

    Anyway… yeah, I know about the Four Corners and Raton fracking, and what’s worse is especially up towards Farmington, we’re talking a whole lot of dirt-poor people — many of them Native Americans — who lack the resources and means to stop the frackers.

  35. citizen_spot says:

    Just put a sign up at the border that points them to Idaho?

  36. RepubAnon says:

    No, we think that contaminating scarce drinking water supplies is a bad idea. We also think that sustainable development is a good idea. You might think about the Laws of Thermodynamics as related to sustainable use of renewable resources.

    It’s like a trust fund set up by your multi-millionaire parents: if you live off the interest it earns, the trust fund will last forever. However, if you start pulling out the principal as well, you’ll eventually run out of money. How long depends upon how much money was in the trust – but it will eventually dry up and blow away unless someone starts putting money back in.

  37. citizen_spot says:

    Hoy Moran?

  38. RepubAnon says:

    It really doesn’t matter what caused the shortage at this point – the question becomes how best to manage a scarce resource. More fracking, more cotton, or more drinking water?

    It isn’t just Texas, either – lots of places in the world are running out of potable (drinking) water. Privatization of the water systems won’t solve the problem – it’ll just mean rationing supplies via high prices rather than giving everyone a set quantity.

  39. mirror says:

    I was trying to figure out if you were being sarcastic or not. Then I read enough of your other comments to conclude you weren’t. I encourage you let go of your default mind set of analyzing each issue as having no relationship to any other issue.

  40. mirror says:

    Gaius: There really hasn’t been enough talk about the inevitable mass migrations WITHIN the United States. I’m not looking forward to all those poor angry Southerners moving to Washington state with their guns and weird ass ideology and religion. It’s going to get real bad.

  41. Naja pallida says:

    There is plenty of gas in the Raton region, but even more in the four corner’s region. An area which also happens to be where water is diverted from from the San Juan to the Rio Grande to supply drinking water to Albuquerque and the surrounding area. So, if you’re lucky, you can import in your drinking water contaminants from other areas. :) In general though, New Mexico has been thus far overlooked in the fracking boom, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

  42. BeccaM says:

    Just for kicks, pull up a Google satellite map, and take a good close look at the region bordered by east New Mexico, into Texas and up through the mid-western states.

    You’ll see lots of green circles. Some squares, but mostly circles. Those are irrigation plots, and just about every one of them irrigated by water pumped from the aquifers. There’s nowhere near enough water from precipitation alone to support what’s being grown in all those circles.

    In a way, the fracking is the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back, except given the massive amounts of water being consumed by the fracking (along with repeated instances of contamination of existing wells), it’s more like an anvil dropped from on high. The camel’s going splat.

    There are ways to calculate how geologic formations replenish their acquifers, and unfortunately, we’ve been behaving as if those supplies are limitless. Obviously to anyone with a functioning brain and logical thought processes, they’re not.

    We once believed there was such a thing as the public good. That individuals and businesses couldn’t just do whatever the hell they want because the consequences were too dire. The guy selling “his water” isn’t just selling his. He’s also selling the water out from under everybody else’s land nearby.

    It takes a special kind of insanity — and bag of hammers stupid — to be in a drought, have most folks under extreme water use restrictions, but have essentially no restrictions at all on how much water is used (and how much more is rendered unusable through poisoning) for companies and individuals who care only about profit.

    Unfettered laissez-faire capitalism destroys and is ultimately inimical to human existence. The situation in Texas is more than ample proof. It’s about time we realized this.

  43. Naja pallida says:

    If the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is reporting it as a problem, it’s probably exponentially worse than they’re reporting. They’re basically a shill group for “business” interests in the state, ostensibly well intentioned, but ultimately appointed and serving at the behest of the governor. Who would be happy to see Texans die of thirst than risk having an oil company lose one penny of profit.

  44. citizen_spot says:

    But if a district has no constituents, then it doesn’t need a representative. Those representatives will do all they can to hang onto their cushy jobs and benefits. It will be a tough balancing act for them to choose between big gas and oil interests’ campaign donations, or their jobs.

  45. BeccaM says:

    Essentially anywhere there is shale and either oil or natural gas or both.

    I live just east of Albuquerque and essentially the only thing stopping the fracking here — because we do have shale — is because there’s no gas or oil in that shale.

  46. fentwin says:

    “Hay Moron”


  47. Indigo says:

    North Dakota and Pennsylvania too.

  48. edsmom says:

    Said the genius who spelled severe… “sever”.

  49. condew says:

    I suspect rural citizens and small towns will just be permitted to dry up and blow away. Politicians won’t notice until a city dries up.

  50. Ed Ramirez says:

    You too genius

  51. Ed Ramirez says:

    Hay Moron the subject was Fracking not global warming.

  52. ArthurH says:

    Remember when fracking was a word used in movies as a mock curse word? Now its not mock.

  53. ArthurH says:

    But I understand that some Texans believe the water shortage is caused by Quazequotl, the great feathered serpent, flying up from Mexico and drinking all the water. Another damn illegal! For some on the political right this is easier to believe that 98% of the world’s climate scientists!

  54. PeteWa says:

    yep, and those forced birther pinheads haven’t figure out yet that no water is the ultimate abortion.

  55. cole3244 says:

    the frigging frackers will blame this on the liberal commies and the fools will believe it hook line and sinker.

  56. nicho says:

    Oh dear. Have you forgotten that climate change is a myth? You had better re-read the Wingnut Talking Points — better still, have someone read them to you.

  57. TheOriginalLiz says:

    ^ comic relief

  58. Ed Ramirez says:

    So you lefties have all down to if the GOP is for it, it is a mistake. Well that relieves you of one thing- Thinking!!

  59. Ed Ramirez says:

    I wonder if the sever drought they have been experiencing could be caused this shortage, Nahh!!

  60. citizen_spot says:

    I suspect that there will be “political will” when it becomes clear that population migration affects rural districts and their representatives negatively, politically speaking.

  61. Gary Harmer says:

    And that tex-ass mentality strikes again!

  62. MichaelS says:

    Ah, but water’s not a priority concern in Texas… the real priority is to ban abortion… That’s all that really matters.

  63. TheOriginalLiz says:

    Setting the stage for another great dust bowl? I don’t think we have the political will to take action to correct the problem this time around.

  64. TheOriginalLiz says:

    They’ll still vote GOP – these are people who don’t learn from their mistakes.

  65. Tysalpha says:

    Fracking may be the proximate cause for the water shortage; but the underlying issue is the urban migration to the desert southwest over the past 60 years. We should look at how we could incent people to return to more climate- and resource-appropriate areas.

    “Ultimately, this is a political problem, isn’t it? The inability to coordinate public policy for the public good guarantees unjudicated pitched battles among the competing interests.”
    Bingo! +1

  66. I’m sure this is just part of god’s plan or maybe they didn’t pray enough?

  67. bejammin075 says:

    Left out of the discussion was modern meat production & consumption, which is extremely wasteful of both water and fuel. Far far more than more realize.

  68. UncleBucky says:

    Texan Mothers and Fathers…. no water for your kids? Now for whom are you voting?


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