The Barnett Shale is more than 7,000 feet below the surface and is comprised of dense non-permeable rock. According to Dr. Ken Morgan, a geologist at Texas Christian University, “Solid hard rocks that are 7000 feet down don’t subside. You have more than a mile of solid rock that holds it all up. Subsidence occurs when you have loose, soft materials like in Houston (sands, clays, etc.) but not in cemented hard rocks like the Barnett Shale.”
Will gas drilling be restricted due to drought?
Facing the most severe drought conditions since 2006, some communities in North Texas are imposing water restrictions. However, as state law says, water can only be limited based on the proportion used. Because of this, natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale will continue unless Stage 3 restrictions are imposed and all water users are restricted proportionally. This has caused some people to pause and question why, so we wanted to clarify the situation.
Linda Christie, the Community and Government Relations Director of the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), says that natural gas companies use “about 1 percent” of the water supplied by the TRWD. In comparison, outdoor watering accounts for more than 50 percent of all water used. The TRWD is one of the largest raw water suppliers in Texas and provides water to more than 30 wholesale customers in the Barnett Shale region in north Central Texas, including the cities of Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and the Trinity River Authority (TRA). In turn, TRA also supplies water to municipalities and other end users.
Ms. Christie also said that the TRWD asks their customers to establish water restriction plans that closely parallel theirs, which is broken down into three stages:
- Stage 1 restrictions are imposed when the levels of the area lakes, including Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake and the Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers Reservoirs, drop to 75% of capacity. Stage 1 restrictions mean that outdoor watering of lawns is limited to 2 times per week or on certain days of the week.
- Stage 2 restrictions are imposed when levels drop to 60% of capacity. Outdoor watering is then restricted to one time per week or on certain days of the week.
- Stage 3 restrictions are imposed when levels drop to 45% of capacity. No outdoor watering is allowed.
If the demand for water from all users still exceeds the supply, then users are curtailed on a pro-rata basis as required by Texas Statute 11.039, “Distribution of Water During Shortage,” passed by the Texas Legislature in June 2001. This ensures that water is distributed equitably, so that preference is given to no one particular user.
What this means for the natural gas industry is that by state law, entities controlling access to water, such as the TRWD, TRA and municipalities, cannot single out any user, such as natural gas companies, and restrict their water usage. So, for now, business as usual continues while homeowners and companies wait to see if the drought will continue—or if rain will come.