Groundwater Withdrawals Associated with Oil and Gas Production from Water Supply Aquifers in Texas: Implications for Water Management Practices
Cover photo: Llano River with fisherman. ©2018 Ray Uherek.


low total dissolved solids, shallow oil and gas production, water supply aquifers, Texas

How to Cite

Coeckelenbergh, K. ., Murgulet, D., Uhlman , K. ., & Vickers, C. . (2021). Groundwater Withdrawals Associated with Oil and Gas Production from Water Supply Aquifers in Texas: Implications for Water Management Practices . Texas Water Journal, 12(1), 151–201.


The demand for water is continuing to increase as population and industry grow. The Natural Resources Defense Council indicated that Texas is at “extreme risk” for implementation of sustainable water management practices especially since groundwater is the supplier of much of the state’s freshwater. This study is designed to assess groundwater conservation practices in association with oil and gas production from the surrounding areas of the Carrizo-Wilcox formation in Texas. The results of this study reveal that the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), the governing agency for Texas oil and gas development, permits produced water to be discharged into surface waters if the discharged water quality meets Texas Surface Water Quality Standards (TSWQS) set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for the specific receiving water body.  After careful evaluation of data provided by the Railroad Commission of Texas, it is believed that nearly 5,331,975 m3 (4,321 ac⋅ft) of produced water per year, with an average TDS of 960 mg L-1, is being removed from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer through discharge permits designated as “agricultural”. The RRC is not legally required to share the discharge information with local Groundwater Conservation Districts. Based on an evaluation of the reported Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) test data, 69 discharges amount to total suspended solid (TDS) levels of less than 1,000 mg L-1, 35 are between 1,000-1,500 mg L-1, and 20 between 1,500 - 4,000 mg L-1.  Although 69% of discharges exceed the secondary drinking water standard for TDS (500 mg L-1), the average of all discharges, 960 mg L-1, is in line with the arbitrary upper limit for freshwater based on the suitability for human consumption. In addition, the water quality of surface discharges complies with requirements for several water reuses associated with agricultural and industrial practices. The lack of communication between groundwater users leads to conflicting groundwater practices that have negative impacts such as contribution to aquifer over-exploitation and alteration of hydraulic gradients, in turn negatively impacting existing groundwater conservation efforts.


Al-Ghouti MA, Al-Kaabi MA, Ashfaq MY, Da’na DA. 2019. Produced water characteristics, treatment and reuse: A review. Journal of Water Process Engineering. 28:222-39. Available from:

Brun F, Berthier E, Wagnon P, Kääb A, Treichler D. 2017. A spatially resolved estimate of High Mountain Asia glacier mass balances from 2000 to 2016. Nature geoscience, 10:668-673. Available from:

Cook M, Huber KL, Webber ME. 2015. Who regulates it? Water policy and hydraulic fracturing in Texas. Texas Water Journal. 6(1):45-63. Available from:

Costle DM, Schaffer RB, Riley JE, Berlow JR. 1979. Development document for proposed effluent limitations guidelines, new source performance standards, and pretreatment standards for the paint formulating point source category. Washington (District of Columbia): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 486 p. Available from:

Degenhardt R. 2012. Hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination: Can disclosure rules clarify what’s in our groundwater. Ecology Law Currents. 4:39. Available from:

Eckhardt G. 2016. Aquifer storage and recovery. The Edwards Aquifer Website. [Accessed 2016 Oct 2]. Available from:

Forbes. 2016. Best states for business: Texas. 2016 Ranking. Jersey City (New Jersey): Forbes. [Accessed 2016 Dec 1]. Available from:

Godsey WE. 2017. Fresh, brackish, or saline water for hydraulic fracs: What are the options? Longview (Texas): Geo Logic Environmental Services, LLC. Available from:

Humberson T. 2016. Discharges west of the 98th meridian. Austin (Texas): Railroad Commission of Texas, Environmental Permits and Support. Available from:

Kim E, Ruppel S. 2005. Oil and gas production in Texas. Austin (Texas) University of Texas at Austin Bureau of Economic Geology. [Updated 2014]. Available from:

Kondash A, Redmon JH, Lambertini E, Feinstein L, Weinthal E, Cabrales L, Vengosh A. 2020. The impact of using low-saline oilfield produced water for irrigation on water and soil quality in California. Science of The Total Environment. 733:139392. Available from:

LBG-Guyton Associates. 2003. Brackish groundwater manual for Texas regional water planning groups. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board. Available from:

Martel-Valles JF, Foroughbakchk-Pournavab R and Benavides-Mendoza A. 2016. Produced waters of the oil industry as an alternative water source for food production. Revista internacional de contaminación ambiental, 32(4):463-475. Available from:

Nicot JP, Hebel AK, Ritter SM, Walden S, Baier R, Galusky P, Beach J, Kyle R, Symank L, Breton C. 2011. Current and projected water use in the Texas mining and oil and gas industry. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board. 381 p. [Accessed 2011 Nov]. Available from:

Ponce VM. 2006. Groundwater utilization and sustainability. [Updated 2013]. Available from:

[RRC] Railroad Commission of Texas. 2015. Surface waste management manual. Oil and Gas Division. [Accessed July 2015.] Available from:

[RRC] Railroad Commission of Texas. 2016a. Summary of statewide rule 8. Texas State Government. [Accessed 2016 Mar 7]. Available from:

[RRC] Railroad Commission of Texas. 2016b. Oil and gas waste disposal. Texas State Government. [Accessed 2016 Aug 31]. Available from:

[RRC] Railroad Commission of Texas. 2018. 2018 Texas surface water quality standards. Available from:

[RRC] Railroad Commission of Texas. 2021. Forms GW-1 & GW-2: groundwater protection determination requests and statewide rules 13, 14, 9, 46, 99 & 100. Austin (Texas): Railroad Commission of Texas. Available from:

Sass RL. 2011. Uranium mining in Texas: why is it done that way?. Houston (Texas): Rice University James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. 33 p. Available from:

Schwabe K, Nemati M, Landry C, Zimmerman G. 2020. Water markets in the western United States: trends and opportunities. Water. 12(1):233. Available from:

Spencer T, Altman P. 2010. Climate change, water, and risk: current water demands are not sustainable. New York (New York): Natural Resources Defense Council. [accessed 2020 Jul]. Available from:

[TWDB] Texas Water Development Board. 2016. Groundwater management areas. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board. [Accessed 2016 Oct 3]. Available from:

[EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2004. Local limits development guidance. Washington (District of Columbia) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Wastewater Management. EPA 833-R-04-002A. 134 p. Available from:

[EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2012a. Class II Oil and Gas Related Injection Wells. Washington (District of Columbia): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Available from:

[EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2012b. 2012 Guidelines for water reuse. [Accessed 2021]. Available from:

[EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2017. Permit Limits-Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET). Washington (District of Columbia): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. [Accessed 2017 Nov 11]. Available from:

[EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2020. State-specific water quality standards effective under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Washington (District of Columbia): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. [Accessed 2020 Nov 28]. Available from:

[EPA] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2021. Part 136 - Guidelines establishing test procedures for the analysis of pollutants, in Code of Federal Regulations. [Accessed December 2021]. Available from:

[EIA] U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2020. Texas state energy profile, Texas Quick Facts. Washington (District of Columbia): U.S. Energy Information Administration. [Accessed Mar 2020]. Available from:

[USGS] U.S. Geological Survey. 2015. Borrego Valley groundwater conditions. Sacramento (California): California Water Science Center. Available from:

Veil J. 2015. U.S. produced water volumes and management practices in 2012. Veil Environmental, LLC prepared for the Groundwater Protection Council. 119 p. Available from:

Veil JA, Puder MG, Elcock D, Redweik RJ Jr. 2004. A white paper describing produced water from production of crude oil, natural gas, and coal bed methane. Lemont (Illinois): Argonne National Laboratory. 87 p. Available from:

[WHO] World Health Organization. 1996. Guidelines for drinking water quality: health criteria and supporting information. 2nd edition. Volume 2. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization. 990 p. Available from:

Wurbs RA, Ayala RA. 2014. Reservoir evaporation in Texas, USA. Journal of Hydrology. 510:1-9. Available from:

Young SC, Ronayne B. 2011. Aquifers of Texas bibliography to support the Brackish Resources Aquifer Characterization System (BRACS) program final report. Austin (Texas): Texas Water Development Board. Available from:

Creative Commons License

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

Copyright (c) 2021 Katie Coeckelenbergh, Dorina Murgulet, Kristine Uhlman , Chris Vickers