March 8, 2012
By Sister Margaret Q.
What is happening in South Texas serves as a warning to other areas of the country where hydrofracking is being used to extract natural gas from deep wells in shale. Drought has forced Texas to draw down its reserves of ground water. These natural underground aquifers can be refilled only by months or even years of above-average rain. Wells are running dry, but this is not the only problem: the precious Rio Grande, source of water for both Texas and northern Mexico, is being contaminated by chemical waste.
In South Texas, the Eagle Ford Shale area lies between Laredo and San Antonio. Since 2008, the number of fracking wells has increased from 34 to over 1200. Each well can use one to three million gallons of water drawn from the Rio Grande or from the ground water that feeds the river. In this way, the industry adds to the effect of drought in the depletion of water.
Waste water with its dissolved chemicals from hydrofracking is carried by trucks to dumpsites where it is deposited in pits. Although rain is scarce, it often comes in torrents that cause temporary flooding. Runoff from floods is carried by storm drains directly into the river. Waste pits overflow during floods, adding their contaminants to the runoff and spills from trucks carrying solid waste are frequent along the roadside. Waste, with its concentration of chemicals, is carried by runoff into the storm drains as well.
Although hydrofracking provides a rich source of oil and gas, it does so at a cost to reserves of safe water. The huge number of jobs associated with the industry contributes to the economy at a time when millions of people are desperate for work. At the same time, we ignore to our peril, the health risks associated with waste disposal.