Sucking Up Water and Sand in the Quest for Natural Gas

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All of these forces met on August 23 in the Muenster High School cafeteria when the TCEQ held a public hearing as part of the air quality permitting process. Filling in every seat and inch of wall space, locals had the chance to ask EOG representatives questions with state officials moderating and observing.

To the surprise of many, half of the audience was there in support of EOG. They stuck together in groups in the back; some had families with them; and almost all of them were employees or subcontractors of EOG from different cities around North Texas.

Even though the focus was supposed to be on air issues, since the application with the TCEQ is strictly for an air permit, locals pelted EOG representative Curt Parsons with questions about pollution monitoring, sand, truck routes, creek run-off and, of course, water.

At one point in the two-hour long informal comment period, Ivers Lusis stood at a microphone in the middle of the packed cafeteria and asked Parsons about sustainable brackish water supplies.

"A study done for the Texas Water Development Board by LBG-Guyton Associates," Lusis said, "determined that Region C [an area from the Red River to Freestone County south of Dallas] brackish water availability is moderate and productivity is low. Based on this, what contingency plans does EOG have for processing at the mine?"

"We made a good estimate that we think there will be enough water," Parsons answered.

"So, you're spending $25 million on this project," Lusis persisted, "and you have no contingency plan if you run out of brackish water?"

After a pause Parsons responded, "I've answered your question."

"If you run out of brackish water, you have nothing stopping you from using fresh water," Lusis stated, looking pointedly at Parsons.

"Is that a question?" Parsons asked dryly.

"Yes," said Lusis. "There's nothing legally stopping you from using fresh water, right?"

"That is correct," Parsons answered.

Wylie Harris was up next. With a dry stock pond in the middle of his pasture, he pressed further, asking detailed questions about pump capacity in their brackish water wells.

Referring to rumors that EOG intends on as many as 40 wells over the Trinity Aquifer, Harris persisted, "Do you have a specific number of wells you'll need? Not just one, two, three, a handful?"

"I've answered your question," said Parsons.

"Handful isn't an answer," Harris pointed out.

Now air permit application number 95412 is awaiting technical review and it's possible there will be another public hearing. For now, it's in bureaucratic limbo, which is better than in their backyard for many residents of Cooke and Montague counties.

By exploiting one premium resource to recover another, where do we literally draw a line in the sand? Where does the value of water exceed that of energy?

One weathered Saint Jo resident saw the question this way: "If worst comes to worst, I can ride my horse to town. But I can't drink oil."

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.