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Texas fracking critics tour the Eagle Ford as complaints of contamination surface

Photo: Micahel Barajas, License: N/A

Micahel Barajas

Toby Frederick, who lives outside Cuero, stands next a well on his property pumping water that reeks of diesel fuel.

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

A natural gas compressor station outside Cuero, one piece of the Eagle Ford buzzing with oil and gas exploration.

Parrying claims of water contamination and a dysfunctional regulatory agency, Bujano claimed the Eagle Ford can’t be compared to other shale formations, including the Barnett. Companies in the Eagle Ford, he said, typically drill to a depth of up to 12,000 feet, deeper than the average Barnett Shale well which runs somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 feet deep. The deep drilling leaves a huge spread between the oil-bearing shale and usable groundwater wells — usually 4,000 to 6,000 feet in Karnes County, for instance. “Some folks believe that a frack, that pathway, is severe enough, powerful enough, to reach your usable quality water zone … and what I’m telling you is that it’s not,” he said.

While Wilson and others dispute that claim, another factor that separates the Eagle Ford from shale formations elsewhere is the massive amount of water needed to frack each well. Robert Mace, an administrator with the Texas Water Development Board, said fracking in the Eagle Ford is water-intensive, requiring up to 13 million gallons of water per well, compared to just 4 million in the Barnett Shale.

“It just requires more water to get it to crack,” Mace said, and, given scarce surface water in South Texas, “a lot of these companies are looking at groundwater.” Further drought conditions could push companies to rely on more water bought from irrigation districts and local farmers, he said.

The Railroad Commission, which failed to return several email and phone requests for comment, is planning to roll out a water-recycling program for companies fracking in the Eagle Ford, though details about it are not readily available.

A spokesman with Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a Houston-based company that has announced plans to up its Eagle Ford presence in the coming year, said the company is installing metering devices on its wells that draw from the southwestern Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer. “We have not seen any significant declines in the overall water level of the aquifer and the drought conditions have not affected our operations,” said Brian Cain.

The company, he said, also works with the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District, sharing pumping data to help monitor water levels and usage there.

Early this year, Karnes County residents claimed increased water demand for oil and gas drilling may have already begun to pump water tables dry there, and the nearby Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District began monitoring wells when landowners launched complaints that industry pumping had lowered water tables in the shallow “water sands.”

Next door in DeWitt County, Mark Krueger, who tests local well water for common bacteria, claimed a local man called him regarding water contamination. “He said, ‘I’ve got kidney problems,’ then he says, ‘My kids throw up after every shower.’” Krueger said he found high levels of iron bacteria that continued even after repeated treatments, and suspects other chemicals taint the water. “I mean, to me, that shows the problem isn’t isolated; this indicated that the entire aquifer stone that man was drawing from could be contaminated,” Krueger said.

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