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Case Study: Eagle Ford

The Eagle Ford Shale stretches under parts of Texas and Mexico, and producers are using hydraulic fracturing in an arc shaped region to the south of San Antonio. Water stress in this shale play differs from the stress of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, and operators and analysts respond to those stresses in different ways.

During the first decade of the Shale Boom, producers in the Eagle Ford used 18 billion gallons of water in 2013 for hydraulic fracturing.1Bridget Scanlon et al., 2014, “Will water scarcity in semiarid regions limit hydraulic fracturing of shale plays?” Environmental Research Letters, (accessed March 10, 2017). This figure was less than 1% of all water withdrawals in Texas in the same year and only 16% of total water consumption in the play area. Analysts project that continued operations in the region will consume approximately 330 billion gallons from 2013 to 2033. Further, these volumes are similar to the water intensity of conventional operations.

In arid regions such as South Texas, water scarcity impacts all operations including municipal water, agriculture, industry and oil and gas operations. Droughts lead to dwindling surface water sources, and many users turn to groundwater sources for water. As a result, withdrawals from groundwater sources during the early years of the Shale Boom, from 2008 to 2015, reduced groundwater levels from above 200 feet to around 400 feet below the ground surface. Over 20 years, the 330-billion-gallon estimation equates to about 3% of all fresh groundwater storage in the region. However, if operators continue to leverage more brackish groundwater resources, a volume of approximately 80,000 billion gallons, then that same 20 years of fracturing will use less than 0.5% of the entire brackish water resource.

The proportional sizes of the brackish groundwater resource, the fresh groundwater resource, and the 20-year demand for water for hydraulic fracturing.

In arid regions, operators can respond to water vulnerabilities by exploring all of their options for water sourcing and management. In the Eagle Ford Shale, turning to and recycling brackish groundwater reduces the stress on freshwater resources in the region. Beyond this direct savings, hydraulic fracturing provides a net water savings to the state of Texas. For example, in 2011, every gallon of water used to produce natural gas through hydraulic fracturing saved 33 gallons of water in thermoelectric power plants because natural gas is less water intensive than either coal-fired or nuclear plants.

The Eagle Ford Region continues to be a significant contributor to both the U.S. oil and natural gas portfolio. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports on production and estimated future production in their monthly reports, as shown below in their December 2022 graphs.

Oil and natural gas production from the Eagle Ford region

Chart: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Eagle Ford Region Drilling Productivity Report, December 2022,” (accessed December 21, 2022).

Images: “Earth at Night” by NASA; “Graphic” by Top Energy Training, Data Courtesy Dr. Bridget Scanlon, The University of Texas at Austin