Eagle Ford — Water Use

WATER USE IN ASSOCIATION WITH OIL AND GAS ACTIVITIES REGULATED BY THE RAILROAD COMMISSION OF TEXAS


1. RAILROAD COMMISSION OF TEXAS JURISDICTION

Generally, under Texas Natural Resources Code, Title 3, and Texas Water Code, Chapters 26 and 27, the Railroad Commission of Texas (Commission) has jurisdiction activities associated with the exploration, development, or production of oil or gas or geothermal resources, including transportation of crude oil or natural gas by pipeline.  The Commission also has jurisdiction over surface mining for coal, uranium, and iron ore gravel.

2. USE OF FRESH WATER IN ASSOCIATION WITH OIL AND GAS ACTIVITIES

Water is used in association with many oil and gas activities, including use (in general order of relative volume) as a supplemental fluid in enhanced recovery of petroleum resources; during drilling and completion of an oil or gas well; during workover of an oil or gas well; during solution of underground salt in brine mining or hydrocarbon storage cavern creation; as gas plant cooling and boiler water; as hydrostatic test water for pipelines and tanks; as rig wash water; as coolant for internal combustion engines for rigs, compressors, and other equipment; for sanitary purposes; and for laboratory purposes.  

The largest volume of water is used in enhanced recovery.  The following table indicates injected volumes of total fluids (produced water, fresh makeup water, and other fluids) relative to estimates of total injected volumes of fresh water.  Note that the trend for using fresh injection makeup water is declining.  Most fresh water is injected for enhanced recovery in Commission Districts 8 and 8A in West Texas.  The 1996 estimate for fresh water injected for those two districts was 252 million barrels.

YearEstimate of fresh/brackish water (in million barrels)Estimate of produced water (in million barrels)TOTAL Estimated Volume of Fluids injected (in million barrels
CY 1998 316 6,000 6,316
CY 1999 276 5,600 5,876
CY 2000 254 5,900 6,154
CY 2001 212 5,900 6,112

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, including cementing, in well stimulation, as rig wash water, as coolant for internal combustion engines; and for sanitary purposes.

Fresh water is used in oil and gas well stimulation.  Stimulation methods include acidizing and/or fracturing.  In order to be able to produce gas at volumes and rates that are economical, reservoirs with low permeability must be treated.  One method of treatment to increase permeability is fracture treatment or “fracing.”  Conventional fracture technology increases permeability as a result of pumping frac fluid, which generally consists of a viscous gelled fluid, and which creates an increase in the available surface area by creating fractures that are “propped up” or held open by the propping agents in the frac fluid.

Hydraulic fracturing consists of pumping into the formation large volumes of fresh water that generally has been treated with a friction reducer, surfactant and clay stabilizer, and that contains sand.  Hydraulic fracturing maximizes the horizontal length of the fracture while minimizing the vertical fracture height.  The fractures, which are held open by the sand, result in increased surface area, which further results in increases in the desorption of the gas from the shale and increases in the mobility of the gas.  The result is lower completion costs and faster recovery of a larger volume of the gas-in-place.  The volumes injected during hydraulic fracturing treatment can range from 70,000 barrels in a vertical well to over 90,000 barrels in a horizontal well.  Fracing, where necessary, generally takes place immediately after drilling and periodically during the life of the well.

3. REGULATION OF SURFACE WATER IN TEXAS

The industries regulated by the Commission use both surface water and ground water for their activities.  In Texas, water flowing in Texas creeks, rivers, and bays is owned and managed by the State.  Anyone who diverts such surface water must have authorization – or a water right -- from the State of Texas through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) (Texas Water Code, Chapter 11, relating to Water Rights).   Therefore, a person who withdraws surface waters for mining, construction, and oil or gas activities must obtain a water rights permit from TCEQ.  

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.  TECQ forms, fees, contacts, and other water rights information may be found on the TCEQ website (www.tceq.state.tx.us).

4. REGULATION OF GROUND WATER IN TEXAS

A. Regulations of the Railroad Commission of Texas.

Much of the water used in association with oil and gas activities, particularly the water used in enhanced recovery, is saline or brackish water. With regards to enhanced recovery more than 90 percent of the water used is actually highly saline to brackish water produced from the same formations where the oil fields are located.  A very small percentage of the water used for enhanced recovery is fresh water or slightly saline water produced from outside sources as needed to replace the volume of oil removed.  Saline or brackish water is drawn from underground reservoirs that are below the base of usable quality water. The Railroad Commission requires a permit for wells associated with oil and gas activities that draw such water from formations below the base of usable quality water.  

The Commission’s Statewide Rule 5 (16 TAC §3.5) requires a Commission drilling permit to drill an injection water supply well that penetrates the base of usable quality water.  Statewide Rule 13 (16 TAC §3.13) requires that an injection supply water well that penetrates the base of usable quality water be completed in accordance with the criteria in the rule, and the injection supply water well 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.  

B. Regulations of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Effective September 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, Chapter 1901 excludes from the definition of “water well” “an injection water source well regulated under §91.101 of the Natural Resources Code.”  The Water Well Driller must submit drilling logs and other required information to the TDLR and the Texas Water Development Board.  The completion and plugging of such wells must comply with TDLR regulations.  The GWCDs have the authority to enforce the plugging regulations for abandoned or deteriorated water wells within their boundaries.

C. Regulations of Groundwater Conservation Districts.

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 Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (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/GWInfo.php

Chapter 36 specifically does not apply to production or injection wells drilled for oil, gas, sulphur, uranium, or brine, or for core tests, or for injection of gas, saltwater, or other fluids, under permits issued by the Railroad Commission.  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 ground water from a groundwater reservoir to any reservoir not containing ground water 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 also 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)).  

The following tables outline the regulations relating to water wells drilled for water to be used in oil and gas activities in Texas.

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.

REQUIREMENTS FOR WATER WELLS ASSOCIATED WITH OIL AND GAS ACTIVITIES IN TEXAS

TCEQ = Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
RRC = Railroad Commission of Texas
GCD = Groundwater Conservation District
TDLR = Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation

Rig Supply Wells that DO Not Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water
AgencyRequirementCite
TDLR Rig supply water well must be drilled by Licensed Water Well Driller. §1901.151 Texas Occupations Code
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:
  1. the depth, thickness, and character of strata penetrated;
  2. the location of water-bearing strata;
  3. the depth, size, and character of casing; and
  4. any other information required by TDLR.
§1901.251, Texas Occupations Code
Driller must complete the rig supply water well in accordance with TDLR standards and procedures. §1901.253, Texas Occupations Code
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.
§§1901.254, 1901.255, and 1901.256, Texas Occupations Code
GCD Rig supply water wells are exempt from GCD permitting requirements provided:
  • 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.
§36.117(b)(2), Texas Water Code
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(h), Texas Water Code
Driller must submit the drilling log for the rig supply water well to the GCD. §36.117(i), Texas Water Code
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(d)(1), Texas Water Code
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. §§36.117(k), 36.122 and 36.205, Texas Water Code

*  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.

Rig Supply Wells that Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water
AgencyRegulationCite
TDLR 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. Chapter 28 Texas Water Code

§1901.254

 

Injection Water Supply Wells that Do Not Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water
AgencyRequirementCite
TDLR Injection water supply well must be drilled by licensed water well driller. §1901.151 Texas Occupations Code
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:
  1. the depth, thickness, and character of strata penetrated;
  2. the location of water-bearing strata;
  3. the depth, size, and character of casing; and
  4. any other information required by TDLR.
§1901.251, Texas Occupations Code
Driller must complete the well under TDLR standards and procedures. §1901.253, Texas Occupations Code
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.
§§1901.254, 1901.255, and 1901.256, Texas Occupations Code
GCD 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(l), Texas Water Code
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, Texas Water Code, enacted effective 09-01-1985.
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. §36.117(g), Texas Water Code
A GCD permit may regulate:
  1. Spacing of wells from property lines or adjoining wells
  2. Density
  3. Production
  4. Completion; and
  5. Plugging
A GCD permit may also require submission of certain information and assess production fees.
§§36.1131 and 36.116

§§36.120, §36.205 and 36.206, Texas Water Code
Water well must be completed and plugged in accordance with TDLR rules. §§1901.253, 1901.254, and 1901.255, Texas Occupations Code
Report of well plugging must be submitted to the GCD and TDLR. §1901.255, Texas Occupations Code

 

Injection Water Supply Wells that Penetrate the Base of Usable Quality Water
AgencyRegulationCite
RRC A RRC drilling permit is required to drill an injection water source well that penetrates the base of usable quality water. §91.101, Texas Natural Resources Code

16 TAC §3.5
Well must cased and plugged in accordance with RRC regulations. 16 TAC §§3.13 and 3.14.

Last Updated: 7/21/2015 4:35:51 AM