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Wednesday, February 1: Austin (William B. Travis Building & Promontory Point locations).

Tuesday, January 31: Abilene, Austin (William B. Travis Building & Promontory Point locations), Fort Worth, Kilgore, Midland, San Angelo, San Antonio and Wichita Falls.

Staff is teleworking and available to respond to emergencies. For emergencies call toll-free at 844-773-0305 or email Publicassist@rrc.texas.gov.

Water Use

in Association with Oil & Gas Activities



The Commission has no statutory authority to regulate the withdrawal or use of water used for oil and gas exploration and production, including water used for hydraulic fracturing.

The industries regulated by the Commission use both surface water and groundwater for their activities. Saline or brackish water, which makes up much of the water used for oil and gas activities, particularly in enhanced recovery, is drawn from underground reservoirs that are below the base of usable quality water. The Railroad Commission requires a drilling permit for wells associated with oil and gas activities that draw such water from formations below the base of usable quality water.

If an injection water supply well will penetrate the base of usable quality water, a RRC drilling permit is required and the well must be completed in accordance with criteria in Statewide Rule 13 (16 TAC §3.13). When the well is plugged, it must be plugged in accordance with Statewide Rule 14 (16 TAC §3.14).

When a fresh water well, whether the well is a rig supply well or an injection water supply well, is drilled above the base of usable quality water and fresh water is used, regulations other than those of the Commission apply. See “What are the regulations relating to water wells drilled for water to be used in oil and gas activities in Texas?” for more information.

The largest volume of water is used in enhanced recovery, which includes techniques such as the injection of fluid or gases into an oilfield to force more oil to the surface, which recovers more oil than can be obtained by natural pressure. The water used is primarily saline or brackish water.

The next largest volume of water is used during the drilling and completion of oil and gas wells. Water is used during drilling for drilling fluid preparation and make-up water for completion fluids, in cementing, in well stimulation, as rig wash water, as coolant for internal combustion engines, and for workers’ on-site sanitary purposes.

Fresh water is used in oil and gas well stimulation, such as acidizing and hydraulic fracturing. To produce oil and gas at volumes and rates that are economical, reservoirs with low permeability must be treated. One method of treatment to increase permeability is hydraulic fracturing or “fracing.”

Hydraulic fracturing consists of pumping into a formation large volumes of fresh water that generally has been treated with a friction reducer, a surfactant, and a clay stabilizer to create a gel that is used to transport sand into the formation. The volumes injected during hydraulic fracturing treatment can range from 70,000 barrels in a vertical well to more than 90,000 barrels in a horizontal well. Hydraulic fracturing, when necessary, generally takes place immediately after drilling and periodically during the life of a well.

As of Feb. 1, 2012, the Commission requires Texas oil and gas operators to disclose chemical ingredients and water volumes used in hydraulic fracturing on the FracFocus website (https://fracfocus.org/). FracFocus is a chemical registry hosted by the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC). The GWPC is a national association of state groundwater and underground injection control agencies. The IOGCC is a national commission whose members are the governors and state regulators of oil and gas producing states.

The Railroad Commission’s Hydraulic Fracturing Frequently Asked Questions  contain information on water use associated with hydraulic fracturing.

 

The 2022 State Water Plan, published by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), serves as a guide to state water policy. According to the plan, irrigation accounts for the largest share of the state’s total current water demand, using over half of the water in Texas. Additionally, projected water needs are expected to increase most in the category of municipal water use in the coming decades, currently the second largest share of water demand in the state. Demand for municipal water (including rural county-other) is expected to increase from 5.2 million acre-feet in 2020 to 8.5 million acre-feet in 2070. Water demands for manufacturing, steam-electric power generation, and livestock are also expected to increase.

In comparison, total water use for mining continues to represent roughly 2 percent of statewide water use, although percentages can be larger in some localized areas. The TWDB reports that mining water use is expected to increase slightly in the next decade, but overall will decline from 406,830 acre-feet to 281,061 acre-feet between 2020 and 2070. The TWDB defines mining water demands as those that “consist of water used in the exploration, development, and extraction processes of oil, gas, coal, aggregates, and other materials.”

TWDB State Water Plans


The Commission has approved recycling projects aimed at reducing the amount of fresh water used in exploration and production. New treatment technologies are making it possible to recycle water recovered from hydraulic fracturing, including the reuse of treated flowback fluids. Additionally, operators are exploring using lesser quality water (non-potable water) for hydraulic fracturing. The Commission encourages such industry innovations.

See links below for:

General requirements for fluid recycling 

Application requirements and conditions for domestic wastewater recycling 

The State of Texas owns and manages water flowing in Texas creeks, rivers and bays. Anyone who withdraws such surface water must have authorization – or a water right – from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). (see Texas Water Code, Chapter 11, relating to Water Rights)

An applicant may apply for a Temporary Water Right permit for short-term use of surface water. Temporary Water Rights permits authorizing use of 10 acre-feet or less and for one year or less may be issued by a TCEQ Regional Office. In times of drought, the TCEQ may suspend all temporary water rights permits.

Applicants who seek to use more than 10 acre-feet of water or who seek a term of more than one year (up to a maximum of three years) must apply through the TCEQ Water Rights Permitting Team in Austin.

TCEQ forms, fees, contacts, and other water rights information may be found on the TCEQ website (www.tceq.texas.gov).

Effective Sept. 1, 2003, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) regulates Water Well Drillers under the Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 1901. Rig supply wells must be drilled by a licensed Water Well Driller; however, if the injection water source well is regulated under §91.101 of the Natural Resources Code, it is excluded from the definition of a “water well.” The Water Well Driller must submit drilling logs and other required information to the TDLR and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The completion and plugging of such wells must comply with TDLR regulations. Local Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) have the authority to enforce the plugging regulations for abandoned or deteriorated water wells within their boundaries.

In Texas, groundwater ownership rights are subject to regulation and control by the courts and the State Legislature. Groundwater may be managed individually by landowners under the rule of capture, or collectively by landowners and groundwater conservation districts (GCDs). Under the “Rule of Capture,” landowners may pump as much water as they choose, without liability to surrounding landowners who might claim that the pumping is depleting their wells. There are very few restrictions to the Rule of Capture.

The Texas Legislature authorized the creation of GCDs as the State's preferred method of groundwater management (Texas Water Code, Chapter 36). These districts are empowered and charged to conserve, preserve, protect, recharge, and prevent waste of groundwater resources within their boundaries. GCDs may be created through a special legislative act, a landowner petition process to the TCEQ, a landowner petition process to join an existing GCD, or TCEQ initiative in a priority groundwater management area (PGMA). Additional information regarding groundwater management can be located at the following: http://www.tgpc.state.tx.us/

Chapter 36 specifically does not apply to production or injection wells drilled under RRC permits for oil, gas, sulphur, uranium or brine, or for core tests, or for injection of gas, saltwater or other fluids. However, it does apply to water wells, including injection water source wells (“water wells used to supply water for activities related to the exploration or production of hydrocarbons or minerals”) (§36.117(l)).

Under Texas Water Code §36.117, there are certain exemptions, exceptions, and limitations to Chapter 36. In addition to exemptions for small volume livestock and poultry and domestic water wells, there are certain exceptions for temporary rig supply wells and limitations on injection water supply wells used in association with oil and gas activity, as well as water wells associated with surface mining activity.

Section 36.117 includes a permit exception for temporary rig supply wells. A GCD may not require a permit for the drilling of a temporary rig supply well (“drilling of a water well used solely to supply water for a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the Railroad Commission of Texas provided that the person holding the permit is responsible for drilling and operating the water well and the well is located on the same lease or field associated with the drilling rig”) (§36.117(b)(1)). However, a rig supply water well must be registered in accordance with GCD rules and must be equipped and maintained to conform to the GCD’s rules requiring installation of casing, pipe, and fittings to prevent the escape of groundwater from a groundwater reservoir to any reservoir not containing groundwater and to prevent the pollution or harmful alteration of the character of the water in any groundwater reservoir (§36.117(h)). The driller of a rig supply well must file the drilling log with the GCD (§36.117(i)). In addition, the GCD may require a water well originally drilled for the purpose of rig supply to be permitted by the GCD and to comply with all GCD rules if the purpose of the well no longer is solely to supply water for a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the Railroad Commission (§36.117(d)). And finally, the well must be plugged in accordance with GCD regulations.

Section 36.117 includes a limitation on injection water supply wells. Although Chapter 36 applies to injection water source wells, Section 36.117 prohibits a GCD from denying an application for a permit to drill and produce water for hydrocarbon production activities (an injection supply water well) if the application meets all applicable rules as promulgated by the GCD (§36.117(g)).

Section 36.117 also includes a permit exemption for water wells drilled in association with surface mining. A GCD may not require a permit issued by the GCD for the drilling of a water well authorized under a permit issued by the Railroad Commission under Chapter 134, Natural Resources Code, or for production from such a well to the extent the withdrawals are required for mining activities regardless of any subsequent use of the water. However, such a well must be registered in accordance with GCD rules and must be equipped and maintained so as to conform to the GCD’s rules requiring installation of casing, pipe, and fittings to prevent the escape of groundwater from a groundwater reservoir to any reservoir not containing groundwater and to prevent the pollution or harmful alteration of the character of the water in any groundwater reservoir, and the driller of such a well must file with the GCD a copy of the drilling log. Furthermore, a GCD may require such a well to be permitted by the GCD and to comply with all GCD rules if the withdrawals from such a well are no longer necessary for mining activities or are greater than the amount necessary for mining activities specified in the permit issued by the Railroad Commission.

The regulations for water wells drilled for oil and gas activities depend on the type of well and if the well penetrates the base of usable quality water. The following tables summarize the regulations that apply to rig supply wells and injection water supply wells. These regulations are found in Chapter 1901 of the Texas Occupations Code, Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code, and Title 16 Chapter 3 of the Texas Administrative Code.

RIG SUPPLY WELLS

If you have a rig supply well that does NOT penetrate the base of usable quality water, the following regulations apply:

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) - Texas Occupations Code §1901

§1901 subsections

Requirement

§1901.151

Rig supply water well must be drilled by Licensed Water Well Driller.

§1901.251

Driller must make and keep a well log in accordance with TDLR rules and forms and must send a copy of the log to TDLR and TCEQ.

Log must include:

  • the depth, thickness, and character of strata penetrated;
  • the location of water-bearing strata;
  • the depth, size, and character of casing; and
  • any other information required by TDLR.

§1901.253

Driller must complete the rig supply water well in accordance with TDLR standards and procedures.

§§1901.254, 1901.255, and 1901.256

Landowner or operator of abandoned or deteriorated water well must plug or cap the well within 180 days. (NOTE: A GCD has the authority to enforce this section.)

Driller, pump installer, or owner who plugs a rig supply water well must submit plugging report to GCD and TDLR.

 

Groundwater Conservation District (GCD) - Texas Water Code §36

§36 Subsections

Requirement

§36.117(b)(2)

Rig supply water wells are exempt from GCD permitting requirements if the following are true:

  • the rig supply water well is to be used solely to supply water for a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the RRC*; and
  • the person holding the permit is responsible for drilling and operating the water well and the well is located on the same lease or field associated with the drilling rig.

* The RRC interprets the phrase “a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the commission” to mean a drilling rig or a workover rig and interprets “exploration operations” to include well completion and workover, including hydraulic fracturing operations.

§36.117(h)

Rig supply well must be:

  • registered in accordance with GCD rules and
  • be equipped and maintained so as to conform to the GCD’s rules requiring installation of casing, pipe, and fittings to prevent the escape of groundwater from a groundwater reservoir to any reservoir not containing groundwater and to prevent the pollution or harmful alteration of the character of the water in any groundwater reservoir.

§36.117(i)

Driller must submit the drilling log for the rig supply water well to the GCD.

§36.117(d)(1)

The GCD may require a permit and compliance with all GCD rules if the exempted rig supply well no longer supplies water solely to a rig that is actively engaged in drilling or exploration operations for an oil or gas well permitted by the RRC.

§§36.117(k), 36.122, and 36.205

Groundwater withdrawn from an exempt rig supply water well that is subsequently transported outside the boundaries of the GCD is subject to any applicable production and export fees.

 

If you have a rig supply well that penetrates the base of usable quality water, the following regulations apply:

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation - Texas Occupations Code §1901

§1901 subsections

Requirement

§1901.254

A driller must notify TDLR and the landowner or person having a well drilled on encountering water injurious to vegetation, land, or other water and determining that the well must be plugged, repaired, or properly completed in order to avoid injury or pollution. The driller must ensure that the well is plugged, repaired, or properly completed under standards and procedures adopted by TDLR.

 

INJECTION WATER SUPPLY WELLS

If you have an injection water supply well that does NOT penetrate the base of usable quality water, the following regulations apply:

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation - Texas Occupations Code §1901

§1901 subsections

Requirement

§1901.151

Injection water supply well must be drilled by licensed water well driller.

§1901.251

Driller must make and keep a well log in accordance with TCEQ rules and forms and must send a copy to the well owner, TDLR and TCEQ.

The well log must include:

  • the depth, thickness, and character of strata penetrated;
  • the location of water-bearing strata;
  • the depth, size, and character of casing; and
  • any other information required by TDLR.

§1901.253

Driller must complete the well under TDLR standards and procedures.

§§1901.254, 1901.255, and 1901.256

Landowner or operator of abandoned or deteriorated water well must plug or cap the well within 180 days. (NOTE: GCD has authority to enforce this section.)

Driller, pump installer, or owner who plugs injection water supply well must submit plugging report to GCD and TDLR.

 

Groundwater Conservation District - Texas Water Code §36

§36 Subsections

Requirement

§36.117(l)

Jurisdiction of GCD applies to water wells, including water wells used to supply water for activities related to the exploration or production of hydrocarbons or minerals. Jurisdiction does not extend to production or injection wells drilled for oil and gas, or for core tests, or for injection of gas, saltwater, or other fluids, under permits issued by the RRC.

§36.117

GCD permit required for injection water supply wells drilled for hydrocarbon activities associated with an oil or gas well drilled after September 1, 1985.

§36.117(g)

A GCD cannot deny an application for a permit to drill and produce water for hydrocarbon production activities (injection water supply well) if the application meets all applicable GCD rules.

§§36.116, 36.120, 36.205, 36.206, and 36.1131

A GCD permit may regulate:

  • Spacing of wells from property lines or adjoining wells
  • Density
  • Production
  • Completion; and
  • Plugging

A GCD permit may also require submission of certain information and assess production fees.

 

If you have an injection water supply well that penetrates the base of usable quality water, the following RRC regulations apply:

Rule

Requirement

§91.101, Texas Natural Resources Code

16 TAC §3.5

A RRC drilling permit is required to drill an injection water source well that penetrates the base of usable quality water.

16 TAC §§3.13 and 3.14

Well must be cased and plugged in accordance with RRC regulations.

 



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