Fracking Water Use Issues in Southwest Mississippi

While some speculate that the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale (TMS) may provide a future oil “boom” in southwest Mississippi counties, the reality is, the boom is no longer hypothetical and it will not just affect southwest Mississippi. Various signs indicate that the TMS has indeed been opened to major commercial production. To date, there are at least eight major corporations drilling or planning to drill the TMS, hundreds of millions of dollars in investments coming into these corporations, and plans to house and feed the influx of people employed by the oil boom.Millions of gallons of water are currently being pumped from rivers and ponds for fracking. Stream withdrawals threaten water quantity in the public waterways of southwest Mississippi and downstream in Louisiana’s East Feliciana, St. Helena and Tangipahoa Parishes. Despite the gears steadily turning, and multiple wells being drilled, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has yet to implement comprehensive oversight or anything more than a two-page application for the extensive surface water withdrawal occurring right now.According to the Oil and Gas Board of Mississippi’s 2014 dockets, more than 60 drilling permits have been applied for in Wilkinson, Amite and Pike counties. With these projects, the face of southwest Mississippi is poised to change dramatically. It takes as much as 11 million gallons of water to hydraulically fracture (frack) just one oil well. The current MDEQ water withdrawal permit system is simply a two page paper application, without any option for public comment. According to, “Oil’s thirst for water,” an Enterprise-Journal article from June 8, 2014, it is not clear where the water needed for fracking is going to come from. The director of the MDEQ’s Office of Pollution Control, Richard Harrell, has stated that there are several options for water sources if the current option, surface water, proves to be insufficient. He suggests that other viable alternatives could include groundwater, water piped in from larger bodies of water, and recycled process water from other wells. However, Doug Hock, the director of community and public relations for Encana Oil Company, one of the eight major oil companies in the TMS, has stated that withdrawing surface water is their only consideration for the near future. MDEQ and the drilling companies don’t seem to agree on the future of water withdrawals.According to Mr. Hock, Encana currently withdraws water for fracking from private ponds and the east and west forks of the Amite River, and has made no indication that they will change their methods in the foreseeable future. Withdrawals are likely from the other small streams in the region such as the Tickfaw and Tangipahoa Rivers. Therefore, not only does the current permitting “process” compromise water quantity in southwest Mississippi’s rivers, the water withdrawal also impacts the water quantity in Louisiana rivers draining to Lake Pontchartrain. The Amite River flows into East Feliciana Parish and the Tickfaw River flows into St. Helena Parish. These two feed Lake Maurepas. The Tangipahoa River flows from Pike County into Tangipahoa Parish and ultimately into Lake Pontchartrain. With millions of gallons of water being withdrawn from these rivers, residents of both Mississippi and Louisiana should be concerned about how changing water quantities may affect their rivers, fish habitat and recreation values.Katherine Currie, from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is a GRN summer legal intern and is a third year law student at the University of Mississippi School of Law where she is chair of the the Trial Advocay Board.

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