Farmers in a Drought Sell Their Water to the Fracking Industry
The ongoing drought in the Southwest is predicted to ease in New Mexico, yet persist in already-parched Texas, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Drought Outlook. But any relief for New Mexico (95 percent of which has been under severe drought conditions for most of this year) is dimmed by reports that some of the state’s farmers have been selling their water to the oil and gas industry to use for fracking.
Desperate to pay their bills, some farmers in New Mexico’s southeastern Eddy County have been selling the water from their supplementary wells to oil and gas companies, says the Albuquerque Journal. More public notices are being posted about water-rights holders seeking to have the purpose of a supplemental well changed from agricultural to commercial, or even to transfer the right to it.
“A lot of folks are doing that. I can’t blame them. The Carlsbad Irrigation District doesn’t have the water the farmers need, and our farmers have to have some income coming in,” Mexico Interstate Stream Commissioner Jim Wilcox comments.
Whatever farmers who drain their aquifers for fracking stand to gain can only be short-term. Hydraulic fracking requires vast amounts of water which, along with chemicals and fine sands, is blasted into the ground to break open shale formations. Afterwards, the chemical-glutted water is often unrecoverable and could even further contaminate the groundwater.
As Think Progress points out, the farmers’ supplemental wells actually get their water from the same source that provide potable water for residents. By selling water for fracking, the water supply of New Mexico could be permanently endangered, if not destroyed and poisoned.
Such a scenario is already going on in Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reports that some 30 communities could run out of water by the end of the year as a result of three years of drought, overuse (by ranchers, farmers and fast-growing urban centers) and the fracking industry.
15 million residents in Texas already live with some form of water rationing. It’s not just that people cannot fill up swimming pools and have to let their lawns go brown. Beverly McGuire, a 35-year-resident of the tiny town (population 200) of Barnhart in west-central Texas, tells the Guardian that there’s no water when she turns on her faucet.
The combination of severe drought and fracking has more than wreaked havoc on the lives of Barnhart and others in Texas. Already unable to feed their herds because of the drought, ranchers have found their meager water supplies drying up as contractors drill hundreds of water wells (in some cases on land that the ranchers have leased to them). The result is that, in Texas, there’s plenty of oil but no water.
The megadrought in the Southwest is profoundly changing the climate and ecosystems in ways not yet fully grasped. Scientists say that the prolonged drought has already caused extensive damage to trees. Rising temperatures mean more drought stress, with trees growing and reproducing less and facing diminished odds of survival.
Fracking (which has been linked to earthquakes and to numerous health problems) itself wreaks tremendous damage on the environment by affecting air quality as gases and chemicals migrate to the surface. New Mexico residents selling the rights to their water away are likely to find themselves with plenty of oil but, aside from a host of new challenges, not much else.
Photo from Thinkstock