Fracking Output Takes Toll on Texas Roads

Unconventional oil and gas development, which employs horizontal drilling and fracking, is dramatically more transportation-intensive than prior hydrocarbon development models, according to an expert in the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Fracking is a technique for extracting oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals.

Gabriel Collins, the Baker Botts Fellow in Energy and Environmental Regulatory Affairs at the Baker Institute, outlined his insights in written testimony prepared for the Texas House of Representatives Transportation Committee titled “Addressing the Impacts of Oil and Gas Development on Texas Roads.” Collins is available to discuss his testimony, including how to improve road quality and safety in Texas areas impacted by these activities, particularly in the Permian Basin; policy response options, including fuel and truck taxes; and related issues with the media.

“Drilling a single horizontal long-lateral well can now require more than 500 tons of steel pipe, a string of sand-carrying railcars 14 football fields long and enough water to fill more than 35 Olympic-size swimming pools,” Collins wrote. It requires “approximately 365 truckloads of sand to complete. The water volumes used in these large new frack completions are equivalent to more than 3,600 truckloads. The more than 1.5 million barrels of produced water that such a well could yield over its lifetime could require over 10,000 truckloads of hauling work. And the crude oil a well produces – the main reason it was drilled – also often begins its journey to market in a truck."

He adds: “Tanker trucks hauling crude oil generally carry around 185 barrels per trip. A well that produces 500,000 barrels of crude over it lifetime could ultimately generate 2,700 truck trips just to move the oil.”

Collins said that in mass terms, the combined weight of the pipe goods, sand, water and crude from a single well exceeds that of the Empire State Building.

Energy producers in Texas are increasingly moving water and crude by pipeline, and Collins suggests six policy options to help accelerate the movement of goods off of roads and into pipes.

Collins conducts a range of globally focused commodity market, energy, water and environmental research. His current research focuses on oil field water issues, groundwater valuation in Texas, evolutions in the global gasoline market, shifts in China’s domestic oil consumption structure, Texas water governance and the food-water-energy nexus.

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