Who Regulates It? Water Policy and Hydraulic Fracturing in Texas

Hydraulic fracturing, the injection of a pressurized fluid mixture of mostly water, sand and a small amount of chemicals (frac fluids), increases extraction rates and recovery of oil or gas. The technique has become increasingly popular when used in combination with horizontal drilling, especially in Texas shale formations. Hydraulic fracturing often requires thousands of cubic meters of water per well. Access to water might be challenging due to water scarcity, allocation policies, price, location, and competition for water. In this policy analysis, we conducted a detailed bottom-up survey for each groundwater conservation district to catalog and assess the prevailing policies and practices related to water and hydraulic fracturing, focusing on the ways in which the State of Texas regulates the use of fresh and non-freshwater for hydraulic fracturing. We find that policies are inconsistent statewide with great variability from district to district in regulations and potential solutions to the challenge of freshwater use. From this analysis, we provide information on the practice of hydraulic fracturing and examine strategies for reducing freshwater use through recycling and use of non-freshwater. In this report, we present the current water policy framework and alternative solutions.