Are Texans' Property & Water Rights "Strong"?
In Texas, strong property rights and strong groundwater rights laws are promoted religiously by Texas politicians. Most Texans have been persuaded that these rights protect the use of their property.
But what do strong property rights and strong groundwater rights laws really mean for the individual landowner when they have to battle large corporations for these rights? In Texas a corporation can get an eminent domain claim to your property by checking a box on a Railroad Commission form that indicates the Corporation is a "common carrier." That's it. That's all the corporation has to do to claim rights to your property. The Railroad Commission does not investigate to make sure the corporation is a legitimate common carrier and not a private operation. The landowner's only recourse is to battle the corporation's team of lawyers in court.
Even foreign corporations have the right to claim eminent domain of private property in Texas. Transcanada's eminent domain claim against farmer Julia Trig Crawford and her siblings in North Texas is a prime example. Crawford, a star basketball player at Texas A&M in the 1970s, is fighting to stop Transcanada's claim to an easement on her property because they insist on routing their pipeline through a pasture on her property that is known to contain many Caddo Indian artifacts. Crawford is also concerned that the pipeline could pollute a creek that supplies the farm's irrigation water and that high temperatures emanating from the pipeline could affect her crops. Crawford's only course of action to stop Transcanada is to spend thousands to fight them in court. The segment of pipeline is part of the XL Keystone tar-sand oil pipeline from Canada. Even though Obama has put a hold on the northern segments of the pipeline, he has approved and even endorses this segment. That's a pretty good sign that he will endorse the rest of the pipeline as soon as the plan for the route around the Sandhills area of the Ogallala aquifer is completed.
The feeding frenzy brought on by new oil and gas fracking techniques is also causing many private landowners grief. Fracking operations require a great amount of fresh water and sand. Years of drought in Texas has taken its toll on water supplies. Texas's largest cities are scrambling to find enough sources to keep their burgeoning populations satisfied. In 2011 the Texas electrical grid came very close to shutting down for lack of water to cool the power generation turbines. The demand for massive amounts of water for fracking is exacerbating the problem. Once water is used for fracking it is contaminated by toxic chemicals and must be injected deep into the earth for disposal. It cannot be used again for human consumption or for agricultural irrigation. That water is gone for good.
So where are the fracking companies getting their water? Some buy property and drill wells or contract to buy well water from private individuals. If you cause a neighbor's well to go dry in Texas because you are taking more than your share of groundwater from your well you are not liable by Texas law. So in many cases the oil companies can draw as much water as they want from our waning aquifers. In this case Texas water laws favor oil corporation water rights over citizen rights. We as individuals would not likely run our neighbor's well dry. But the oil companies have to have a lot more water than individuals and don't have to live next to the people whose wells they dry up.
Some oil companies negotiate with nearby towns to take their sewer effluent for fracking use. Sewer effluent would normally be recycled and fed back into the water cycle. If used for fracking it would be toxic and require underground disposal which may find its way into aquifers and contaminate them. There are many cases where oil companies have been sued for contaminating aquifers but the facts about these litigations are not available to the public because the oil companies settled with (paid off) the victims.
Experts have related recent earthquakes in areas of the country which have never had earthquakes to the practice of injecting the toxic fracking fluids deep into the earth's substrata which lubricates the underground tectonic plates and allows them to slip. Texas recently had a rare 4.8 earthquake in Karnes County south of San Antonio located close to the epicenter of the huge Eagle Ford shale fracking operation. Oklahoma and Arkansas have had even more earthquakes which are most likely related to fracking.
Who would imagine sand for fracking would cause problems? Property owners north of Mason, TX are learning a hard lesson about sand mines. To have the sand needed for the massive Eagle Ford, Barnett and Haynesville fracking operations, sand companies have bought up over a thousand acres of sand-rich property near Katemcy and Pontotoc in Mason County. Now the residents of that Hill Country area have discovered that sand mines in their area can pollute their water table, pollute their air with crystalline silica, wear out their roads, cause a lot of noise and lower their property values. They are protesting loudly and hiring lawyers but they are only small landowners who have little chance of defeating the oil and gas juggernaut in a state which caters to the oil and gas industry.
In the end, will corporation-abused landowners be rewarded by enjoying lower gasoline prices and lower natural gas prices? Not a chance. Facilities are now being planned to export the gas produced by fracking to other places in the world where more profits can be made. All the environmental and economic damage done to our country by the fracking operations is being done so a small group of oil and gas investors can make huge profits. And Congress has refused to make any restrictions that would require the Canadian tar-sand oil be used in the United States so most of that oil will be sent overseas to the highest bidder as well. If the oil companies allowed gasoline produced from tar sand oil to be stored in the U.S., it would increase our supply and therefore lower gasoline prices.