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.


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

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