New investigation finds almost 150 million gallons of toxic wastewater has been spilled across one state: ‘Nothing grows’

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Thousands of spills have released nearly 150 million gallons of toxic oil and gas wastewater across Texas over the past decade, threatening agriculture, wildlife, and water quality.

As production ramps up, transparent reporting and sustainable practices present an opportunity for industry leadership.

What’s happening?

According to an analysis by Inside Climate News, oil and gas companies have reported more than 10,000 spills of toxic wastewater, totaling over 148 million gallons, across Texas over the past decade. This saline byproduct, known as produced water, threatens water quality, soil health, livestock, and vegetation.

The spills ranged from small leaks of less than 10 gallons to massive incidents (19 of the reported spills exceeded 500,000 gallons).

As hydraulic fracturing expands in the Lone Star State, so does the use of billions of gallons of brackish flowback fluid containing cancer-causing carcinogens such as benzene. Companies transport it via miles of pipelines and trucks to disposal sites, risking leaks from infrastructure including storage tanks.

Why is this concerning?

The wastewater can render land barren for years. Rural residents have filed lawsuits detailing damages from contaminated well water to hundreds of poisoned cattle. One case described salty water as so toxic that it killed 132 cattle after the livestock wandered into a spill site.

Visible salt encrustations and distressed vegetation demonstrate long-term ecological impacts. Experts say chloride levels and metals should be monitored, not just salinity.

“There’s a reason why you salted your enemy’s land in the Bible,” oil and gas lawyer Sarah Stogner said. “Nothing grows.”

What’s being done?

Conservation groups advocate for updated reporting protocols, while some companies voluntarily share spill data. The Environmental Protection Agency is involved, as well — a new consent agreement established water testing requirements after 756,000 gallons of produced water and 420 gallons of oil spilled into the Delaware River.

Promising remediation techniques such as onsite soil amendment can balance restoration with replacement. However, “treatment types have to be based and determined on each site,” according to John Lacik, owner of the Texas-based remediation company Gromega LLC. “If there was a cure-all fix, we’d be using it everywhere.”

What can I do?

The spike in spills is an opportunity for legislators to put forward solutions that benefit communities, ecosystems, and bottom lines.

Even citizens outside of Texas can educate themselves on the issue and push representatives to promote modern regulations. We can also ask legislators to decrease reliance on dirty energy sources through weatherization and clean energy.

Through open and earnest dialogue, we can create a cleaner Texas, country, and globe.

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