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“The truth is, even if we didn't use another drop of water for drilling operations, water is still going to be an issue because of the drought and our state’s tremendous population growth,” Porter said. “I want to be clear: Hydraulic fracturing should not be the scapegoat for the water shortage in Texas.”
Environmentalists and others argued that although the overall percentage used by oil and gas is relatively low, communities around fracturing wells can be disproportionately and significantly affected.
Ron Green, a hydrologist with the San Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute, said South Texas' Winter Garden region has been especially affected because of increased pumping of theCarrizo-Wilcox Aquifer as a result of the Eagle Ford Shale boom, and that water levels have been devastated.
Water not recycled must be injected into a disposal well. There has been debate concerning the safety of disposal wells and the potential for them to pollute nearby water supplies.
L'Oreal Stepney, deputy director of the Office of Water at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said that of the 4,000 reported cases of contaminated water in the state in 2010, none were linked to pollution from disposal wells.
“What we find is when there is a problem, typically it is from human or mechanical problems — worn gaskets, valves or hatches that need to be closed,” Stepney said. “But usually the operator acts quickly to get back into compliance.”
Others insisted the science is not sufficient to rule out a threat to the water supplies.
“There are many abandoned or unplugged wells, and as serious as a breakout would be if it flowed up out of the ground, it would be even worse if it went into the aquifer, because we would never be able to tell” that a spill occurred, Green said.
Additionally, inspections of these wells can be limited because of a high number of wells and small number of inspectors, said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. Metzger also pointed to a ProPublica study that said that one out of every three wells that were inspected in Texas received a fine.