Bruce Frasier sweats in the 106-degree heat at his Carrizo Springs, Texas, farm while stacking 42-pound boxes of cantaloupes bound for Kroger supermarkets and Wal-Mart Stores. But he’s turning away all offers for his most prized commodity: water. Texas’s worst drought since record-keeping began in 1895 is fueling a rally in water prices as energy prospectors from ExxonMobil to Korea National Oil expand the use of a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that uses up to 13 million gallons in a single well.
Frasier, whose Dixondale Farms is the state’s largest cantaloupe grower, has been offered as much as 70 cents per 42-gallon barrel of water he pumps from an aquifer beneath his land. That same water fetched no price at all as recently as three years ago, before oil exploration boomed in Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale rock formation. So far, Frasier is standing firm. “I’ve got to have that water for my farming operation,” he explains.
With the region having received less than 2 inches of rainfall since Oct. 1, oil producers are buying water from anyone willing to sell. “It’s pretty dry down here and a lot of oil companies are looking for water,” says Robert Mace, a deputy executive administrator at the Texas Water Development Board.
The water crisis in Texas, the biggest oil- and gas-producing state in the United States, highlights a continuing debate in North America and Europe over fracking’s impact on water supplies. Environmentalists say the method poses a contamination threat, while farmers face growing competition for scarce water.