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Drought-Stricken Texas Fracks Its Way to Water Shortages
By Laura Beans
The southwestern U.S. has been experiencing escalating heatwaves, crippling drought conditions and large swaths of wildfires this year, all hastened by climate change. In unison, these conditions are exacerbating each other and creating chaos, complete with water shortages and evacuations.
With above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, according to the National Weather Service's July 25 update, the majority of the state of Texas is in the midst of severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought conditions, with little relief forecasted to ease the plight of residents, agriculture and industry. Ranchers are experiencing pasture degradation, farmers are losing crops and communities are faced with water restrictions.
Last week, MSNBC's Melissa Harris Perry featured the small town of Barnhart, TX, where the demand for water for fracking was so high, the entire town was sucked dry for days on end. Texas is now building more than 60 miles of pipeline to supply water to Barnhart because of the demands of fracking.
A recent article in The Guardian delves further into the plight of the Lonestar State. Texas has a long history of recurring drought, but under climate change, the Southwest has been experiencing record-breaking heatwaves, further drying out the soil and speeding the evaporation of water in lakes and reservoirs. Decades of water overuse paired with three year long drought and now the oil industry’s demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers.
"The day that we ran out of water I turned on my faucet and nothing was there and at that moment I knew the whole of Barnhart was down the tubes," said Beverly McGuire, a 35-year resident, blinking back tears. "I went: 'dear God help us.' That was the first thought that came to mind."
The process of fracking injects huge amounts of water laced with chemicals deep underground to extract oil or natural gas reserves, previously unreachable. In some regions water usage from fracking can be upwards of 25 percent—two to 10 million gallons per well, per frack, and each well has the potential to be fracked more than once.
Jesse Coleman, from Greenpeace recently wrote that, the water that gets pumped underground is purposefully laced with carcinogenic chemicals to create frack fluid, most of which stays in the well—locked underground and out of the hydrological cycle forever. But what comes back to the surface, called “flowback,” is heavily contaminated by the chemical mixtures that comprise the frack fluid, as well as dissolved salts and heavy metals from deep within the Earth. This flowback can make its way back into the hydrological cycle, though industry claims they can make the water safe for consumption through processing at wastewater treatment plants.
As drought rages on, the people of Texas are getting desperate. “We’ve got to get floods. We’ve got to get a hurricane to move up in our country and just saturate everything to replenish the aquifer,” said Buck Owens, a rancher who, in a good year, could run up to 500 cattle and 8,000 goats. Now he's down to a few hundred goats.
The Guardian reports that contractors drilled 104 water wells on Owen's leased land, to supply the oil companies.
“When the water is gone—that’s it," concluded Owen. "We’re gone.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
- Is California heading for another drought? - Los Angeles Times ›
- CA wildfire season: Will rain, snow weather forecast end risk? | The ... ›
- California Fires Now Rage All Year as Drought Creates Tinderbox ... ›
- California weather stays dry as rain and snow come up short | The ... ›
- California Emerged From Drought and Is Still Catching Fire - The ... ›
A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?