Who regulates it? Water policy and hydraulic fracturing in Texas
Vol. 6 No. 1 (2015). Cover photo: Anzelduas Dam in Hidalgo County


Hydraulic fracturing
water policy
produced water
brackish water

How to Cite

Cook, Margaret, Karen L. Huber, and Michael E. Webber. 2015. “Who Regulates It? Water Policy and Hydraulic Fracturing in Texas”. Texas Water Journal 6 (1). College Station, Texas:45-63. https://doi.org/10.21423/twj.v6i1.7021.


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.

Citation: Cook MA, Huber KL, Webber ME. 2015. Who regulates it? Water policy and hydraulic fracturing in Texas. Texas Water Journal. 6(1):45-63. Available from: https://doi.org/10.21423/twj.v6i1.7021.



Texas Administrative Code § 3.46.

Texas Administrative Code § 3.9.

Adger P. 2014 June 13. College Station City Council votes unanimously for Apache Corp. treated water deal. KBTX [Internet]. Available from: http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/College-Station-city-council-votes-unanimously-for--262980441.html

Apache Corporation. 2014. Personal communication. Buchele M. 2013 March 28. Fracking boom spurs a rush to harness brackish water. NPR State Impact [Internet]. Available from: http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/2013/03/28/drilling-boom-spurs-a-rush-to-harness-brackish-water/

Combs S. 2014. The energy report 2008 [Internet]. Austin (Texas): Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Available from: http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/energy/

Cook M, Webber M. 2014. The influence of hydraulic fracturing on the water market in Texas. Shale Energy Engineering. 530-542 p.

Deeds N, Kelley V, Fryar D, Jones T, Whellan AJ, Dean KE. 2003. Groundwater availability model for the Southern Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. Report prepared for the Texas Water Development Board.

Doherty T, Smith R. 2012. Water transfers in the West 2012: projects, trends, and leading practices in voluntary water trading. Denver (Colorado): The Western Governors’ Association. 133 p.

Dropkin A, Henry T. 2014. How the Denton fracking ban could work. NPR State Impact [Internet]. Available from: http://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/tag/denton/

Eagle Ford Shale. 2013. Alpha reclaim technology opening Eagle Ford water facility [IntPernet]. Available from: http://eaglefordshale.com/press-releases/alpha-reclaim-technology-opening-eagle-ford-water-facility/attachment/alpha-reclaim-tech-facility-karnes-city-tx/.

Eaton C. 2014 April 17. Texas heading for major water shortage with limited oil field recycling. Fuel Fix [Internet]. Available from: http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/02/17/texasheading-for-major-water-shortage-amid-limited-oil-fieldrecycling/

Folger P, Tiemann M. 2014. Human-induced earthquakes from deep-well injection: a brief overview [Internet]. Available from: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43836.pdf

Fox G. 2014. Texas Oil & Gas Association applauds Railroad Commission’s adoption of disposal well rule amendments related to induced seismicity [Internet]. Available from: http://txoga.org/assets/doc/TXOGA_News_Release_on_Final_Railroad_Commission_Rules_on_Seismicity.pdf

Freyman M. 2014. Hydraulic fracturing & water stress: water demand by the numbers [Internet]. Boston (Massachusetts): Ceres. Available from: http://www.ceres.org/resources/reports/hydraulic-fracturing-water-stress-waterdemand-by-the-numbers/view

Galbraith K. 2013 March 8. In Texas, water use for fracking stirs concerns. The Texas Tribune [Internet]. Available from: http://www.texastribune.org/2013/03/08/texas-water-use-fracking-stirs-concerns/

Getches D. 2009. 4th edition. Water law in a nutshell. St. Paul (Minnesota): West Publishing Co. 492 p.

Godsey W. Fresh, brackish or saline water for hydraulic fracs: what are the options? [presentation, Internet]. Available from: http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/02_Godsey_-_Source_Options_508.pdf

Hiller J. 2013 March 9. Companies try selling effluent water in the Eagle Ford. The San Antonio Express-News [Internet]. Available from: http://www.mysanantonio.com/business/article/Companies-try-selling-effluent-water-in-the-Eagle-4342096.php

Holland S, Moore M. 2003.Cadillac Desert revisited: property rights, public policy and water-resource depletion. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. 46:131-155,

IHS. 2014. Water management at forefront of exploration and production operators’ considerations, says new HIS study. Available from: http://press.ihs.com/press-release/ep-water-use/water-management-forefront-exploration-and-production-operators-considera#sthash.NxpKoVxO.dpuf

Jester S, Bjornen K, Sharma R. 2013. Evaluation of produced water reuse for hydraulic fracturing in Eagle Ford [presentation, Internet]. Available from: http://www.slideshare.net/atlanticcouncil/produced-water-session-x-steve-jester

Kalaswad S, Christian B, Petrossian R. 2005. Brackish groundwater in Texas [Internet]. Available from: https://www.twdb.texas.gov/publications/reports/numbered_reports/doc/R363/B2.pdf

Lawler D. 2014 July 25. Direct potable reuse to provide cleaner drinking water. Houston Chronicle [Internet]. Available from: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Direct-potable-reuse-to-provide-cleaner-drinking-5648285.php

Lee M. 2011 Oct. 6. Parched Texans impose water-use limits for fracking gas wells. FuelFix [Internet]. Available from: http://fuelfix.com/blog/2011/10/06/parched-texans-impose-water-use-limits-for-fracking-gas-wells/

Lewis T. 2014 Sept. 14. Guest view: why I am voting no to prop 1. Odessa American [Internet]. Available from: http://www.oaoa.com/editorial/columns/guest_columns/article5a5baae0-3b98-11e4-850a-001a4bcf6878.html

Lyons B. 2014. Produced water: asset or waste? [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: Atlantic Council. Available from: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/publications/reports/produced-water-asset-or-waste

Lyons B, Tintera J. 2014. Sustainable water management in the Texas oil and gas industry [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: Atlantic Council. Available from: http://texasalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Texas-White-Paper-on-sustainable-Water-Management-by-the-Oil-and-Gas-Industry-July-29-2014.pdf

Mittal A, Gaffigan M. 2009. Energy-water nexus: improvements to Federal water use data would increase understanding of trends in power plant water use [Internet]. Washington, D.C: U.S. Government Accountability Office. Report to the Chairman, Committee on Science and Technology, House of Representatives. GAO-10-23. Available from: http://www.gao.gov/assets/300/296960.pdf

National Drought Mitigation Center. 2013. Current U.S. drought monitor [Internet]. Available from: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Nicot JP, Reedy RC, Costley RA, Huang Y. 2012. Oil & gas water use in Texas: update to the 2011 mining water use report [Internet]. Austin (Texas): Texas Oil & Gas Association. Available from: http://www.beg.utexas.edu/water-energy/docs/Final_Report_O&GWaterUse-2012_8.pdf

Nicot JP, Scanlon BR. 2012. Water use for shale-gas production in Texas, U.S. Environmental Science & Technology. 46(6):3580-6.

Nicot JP, Scanlon BR, Reedy RC, Costley RA. 2014. Source and fate of hydraulic fracturing water in the Barnett Shale: a historical perspective. Environmental Science & Technology. 48(4):2464-71.

[NPR] National Public Radio. 2014. Deep injection wells: how drilling waste is disposed underground [Internet]. Available from: http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/tag/deep-injection-well/

Pacsi P, Sanders KT, Webber ME, Allen DT. 2014. Spatial and temporal impacts on water consumption in Texas from shale gas development and use. ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering. 2(8):2028-2035.

Paul C. 2014 July 22. City OK’s Pioneer water deal. Odessa American [Internet]. Available from: http://www.oaoa.com/inthepipeline/article_a2a730fe-120c-11e4-8f17-0017a43b2370.html

Potter HG. 2004. History and evolution of the rule of capture. In: Mullican III WF, Schwartz S. editors. 100 years of rule of capture: from East to groundwater management. Symposium sponsored by the Texas Water Development Board, June 15, 2004. Austin, Texas. 1–9 p.

Ritter A, Fazio E. 2014. Interim report to the 84th Legislature [Internet]. Texas House Committee on Natural Resources. Texas House of Representatives. Available from: http://www.house.state.tx.us/_media/pdf/committees/reports/83interim/House-Committee-on-Natural-Resources-Interim-Report-2014.pdf

Ritter A, Fazio E. 2012. Interim report to the 83th Legislature [Internet]. Texas House Committee on Natural Resources. Texas House of Representatives. Available from: http://www.house.state.tx.us/_media/pdf/committees/reports/82interim/House-Committee-on-Natural-Resources-Interim-Report.pdf

[RRC] Railroad Commission of Texas. 2014a. Texas monthly oil & gas production [Internet]. Available from: http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/oil-gas/research-and-statistics/production-data/texas-monthly-oil-gas-production/

[RRC] Railroad Commission of Texas. 2014b. Saltwater disposal wells [Internet]. Available from: http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/about-us/resource-center/faqs/oil-gas-faqs/faq-saltwater-disposal-wells/

Scanlon BR, Reedy R C, Nicot JP. 2014a. Comparison of water use for hydraulic fracturing for unconventional oil and gas versus conventional oil. Environmental Science and Technology [Internet]. 12386-12393 p. Available from: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es502506v

Scanlon BR, Reedy R C, Nicot JP. 2014b. Will water scarcity in semiarid regions limit hydraulic fracturing of shale plays? Environmental Research Letters. 9(124011). Available from: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/12/124011/pdf/1748-9326_9_12_124011.pdf

[TAGD] Texas Association of Groundwater Districts. 2014. Groundwater conservation district index [Internet]. Available from: http://www.texasgroundwater.org/gcdi-map.html

[TCEQ] Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 2009. Rights to surface water in Texas [Internet]. (GI-228), Available from: http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/files/gi-228.pdf_4467322.pdf

[TCEQ] Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 2014. Requirements for reclaimed water [Internet]. Available from: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/assistance/water/reclaimed_water.html

[TAC] Texas Administrative Code § 3.8.

Texas House Bill 3664, 83d Leg., R.S. 2013.

[NRC] Texas Natural Resource Code § 122.

The City of Lubbock, Texas v. Coyote Lake Ranch, LLC. Texas. 2014.

[TXDOT] Texas Department of Transportation. 2012. Task force on Texas’ energy sector roadway needs [Internet]. Available from: http://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/energy/final_report.pdf

U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. The 2012 statistical abstract [Internet]. Available from: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/population.html

[US EIA] United States Energy Information Administration. 2011. Review of emerging resources: U.S. shale gas and shale oil plays [Internet]. Available from: http://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/usshalegas

[US EIA] United States Energy Information Administration. 2014a. Annual energy outlook 2014 Early release overview [Internet]. Available from: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/pdf/0383er%282014%29.pdf

[US EIA] United States Energy Information Administration. 2014b. Natural gas: number of producing wells [Internet]. Available from: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/ng_prod_wells_s1_a.htm.

US EPA] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2014a. Class II wells - oil and gas related injection wells (Class II) [Internet]. Available from: http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/

[US EPA] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2014b. Classes of wells [Internet]. Available from: http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/wells.cfm

[USGS] United States Geological Survey. 2014. Groundwater depletion [Internet]. Available from: https://water.usgs.gov/edu/gwdepletion.html

Vaughan EG, Crutcher JM, Labatt III TW, McMahan LH, Bradford BR, Cluck M. 2012. Water for Texas: 2012 State Water Plan.

Water Data for Texas. 2014. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.waterdatafortexas.org/reservoirs/statewide

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Copyright (c) 2015 Margaret Cook, Karen L. Huber, Michael E. Webber