In Parched States, Fracking's Thirst Grows

February 20, 2014

In this parched farming region, where the land flattens out and every drop of water is precious, another player has lined up at the spigot.

On a recent sunny afternoon, a huge cylindrical tanker truck rolled up to a red city fire hydrant and driver Jose Ofornio hopped out. With well-practiced efficiency he hooked hose to hydrant and began to fill. And fill.

"It's really bad in the mornings," Ofornio said, noting that trucks often have to wait in line for their turn.

This was his third trip of the day. In less than 15 minutes, thousands of gallons of water gushed into his tank and was shuttled 50 miles to a drilling site, where it would be blasted into the ground along with sand and chemicals to free a bounty of oil and gas in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

According to the petroleum industry, most new wells in this country now use fracking to coax an average of 250 barrels of oil or 1.3 million cubic feet of natural gas from the ground per day. But that can't happen without water — about 3 million to 8 million gallons per well before extraction begins.

Last fall the Environment America Research and Policy Center estimated that at least 250 billion gallons of water had been used since 2005 in the estimated 80,000 wells in 17 states. Drought-prone Texas led the way with at least 110 billion gallons.

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