Sucking Up Water and Sand in the Quest for Natural Gas

For folks in the sandy hills northwest of Dallas, it's a devil's bargain for gas, water and jobs.

Residents in southern Cooke and Montague counties had no idea EOG had purchased 1,400 acres of land with the intent to install a sand mine until they saw the brush being burned and land being cleared last fall. Locals who contacted their county commissioner and fire marshal were eventually directed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which gave them the number for EOG's air quality permit application, which laid out the extensive plans for excavating, processing and transporting frack sand, including a list of pollutants emitted into the air and estimated water use.

J-lynn Hare has land near EOG's property where she and her family spend free time and lives in Muenster, 10 miles east and in the planned trucking path for sand mine operations.

"The trucking that will go by is going to be amazing," Hare says. "There could be a truck driving by my house every four minutes. And, I have land within a mile of the sand mine. The serenity that we've had out there isn't going to be there anymore."

"I have one week for grazing and two weeks of water left in the pond. After that, for the first time in over 50 years, we'll have to use ground water."
Mike Mezeul
"I have one week for grazing and two weeks of water left in the pond. After that, for the first time in over 50 years, we'll have to use ground water."
J-lynn Hare says she can kiss the serenity of country living goodbye if EOG's sand mine begins operating.
Mike Mezeul
J-lynn Hare says she can kiss the serenity of country living goodbye if EOG's sand mine begins operating.

Ozlem Altiok found out about the sand mine after nearly getting overrun by passing trucks on the small country road where she lives.

"My friend was driving and suddenly looked in her rear-view mirror, then pulled over," Altiok says. "Two trucks went flying past us. We weren't used to having those type trucks on these roads and had no idea what the traffic was from. I asked her why she pulled over and she told me the same thing happened the day before. She just wanted to get out of their way. I went home that day and someone called me and asked if I'd heard about the sand mine. And that's the first time I knew what was going on."

Harris and Altiok created the "Save the Trinity Aquifer" group to serve as a comprehensive source of information about EOG's sand mine plans. They also learned more about the value of the sand they live on and why an oil and gas company wants to set up shop in their backyard.

Over the past few years the demand for sand in the United States has sharply increased because of its use in fracking. Natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy estimates that each fracking job requires about 2,000 tons of sand. After a gas well has been drilled, sand, water and chemicals are pumped under immense pressure through a pipe. As the granules and water are blasted into the tight shale, the sand props it open. (Hence, its industry label as a "proppant.")

Not just any sand can be used. Sand comes in different shapes, sizes and has names like Brady, Colorado and Ottawa. The bad news for residents around Saint Jo is that their sand is considered ideal for fracking.

EOG states that when the mine is running at full capacity, it will be able to produce 2,700 tons of sand a day. In addition to noise, dust, pollution, water usage and being an eyesore to an otherwise beautiful area, seven tractor-trailers could be leaving with a load of sand every hour. Given all the changes this sand mine will bring, local residents are apprehensive.

Sand is a vital part of the natural geology over this part of the Trinity Aquifer, which is called the outcrop zone.

"The Trinity Group consists of rock formations that tilt roughly eastward into the earth," says Dr. Paul Hudak with the geography department at the University of North Texas. "In the outcrop area, the formations are exposed at the land surface, and the aquifer is generally more vulnerable to the various sources of pollution that originate near the land surface."

The Trinity Aquifer system starts just south of the Red River and covers a huge swath through the middle of the state stopping just short of San Antonio. Up near Saint Jo, the aquifer feeds into Elm Fork Creek, which flows to Lake Ray Roberts. Primarily, the aquifer is a source of water for rural residents throughout the center of the state. In Cooke and Montague counties it is the main source of water for about 40,000 rural residents.


In 2009, the University of Texas compiled a report for the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) that focused on water use at industrial sand mining facilities, particularly because of the increase in the use of sand in fracking. Numbers are difficult to pin down because water reporting isn't mandatory but, by studying similar sand mining facilities around the state, the report found that roughly 600 gallons of water is used to wash one ton of sand. At most sand facilities, water is often recycled, sometimes as much as 94 percent. The 600 gallons per ton includes the recycled water.

Washing 2,700 tons of sand a day at 600 gallons per ton is 1.62 million gallons of water a day. To get a rough idea how much water 1.62 million gallons is, however, consider this: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the average person uses roughly 100 gallons a day in the United States. Even with recycling, that's a number that worries people who live near EOG's mine since a large draw-down in the aquifer could affect all nearby wells. Many owners have already lowered pumps deeper into their wells to chase the falling water table.

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6 comments
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Ben
Ben

The same people complaining are first ones to cry "big government" when they start restricting water usage, just like the farmers suing The Edwards Aquifer Authority!

LaurenDrewesDaniels
LaurenDrewesDaniels

Ben, you hit on the irony of the EAA case. The farmers are saying, 'we need more water.' However, if a gas/oil drill goes up over the aquifer (or sand mine) within a mile of their farms and there were no restrictions, then what would happen to their water supply?

To be honest, in all the conversations I've had and at the hours of questions I sat through at the public meeting, no one was complaining about "big government." Instead, they were asking why the TCEQ wasn't monitoring the mine more. Example, the TCEQ would rely on EOG to monitor their own air pollution levels. Locals are opposed to that. They want the TCEQ to monitor the pollution.

I understand your point, but haven't seen much evidence of that in this case.

Ben
Ben

You don't think it's a Republican county? It's certainly a red state!

Mmev
Mmev

What did the fire ( and fire threats still existing!) do to the water demands needed to fight the Montague/Cooke County fires? How much increase and where weree the sources for the firefighters??

Harris
Harris

Corruption in America is causing its demise and it has roots in Texas LawInjustice.com exposes a really disturbing case

Nasty
Nasty

Poor guys.

Too bad the Trophy Club MUD and every other entity in North Texas with a penny to spend are drilling like crazy in a race to complete wells into this depleted aquifer before the regulatory agencies introduce restrictions.

We're drinking each others milkshake and suing Oklahoma at the same time in one of the greatest eras of piss poor planning mankind has ever seen.

 
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