NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing

September 22, 2015

A study conducted by Duke University researchers evaluated the overall water footprint of hydraulic fracturing of unconventional shale gas and oil throughout the United States.

Opponents of the fracking method argue that the practice poses a pollution risk to groundwater, depletes available water resources and can trigger earthquakes. Industry advocates say those fears are overblown.

This report presents, for the first time, an integrated and comprehensive evaluation of both water use and flowback produced waters (FP) generated as part of unconventional shale gas and oil.

The study found:

  • The hydraulic fracturing method consumed roughly 48 billion gallons of water per year from 2012 to 2014.
  • The consumption still accounts for less than 1% of America's total industrial water use.
  • The analysis revealed large variations in water use, with typically higher water use for shale gas.
  • In most cases FP water generation drops dramatically after the first year and levels off to a constant rate of production in the following years.
  • The Barnett Shale had the highest water consumption, due to its location in a semi-arid region and competition for water resources with population growth, and water use for future well development could be a limiting factor.

The study concludes that while the hydraulic fracturing revolution has increased water use and wastewater production in the United States, its water use and produced water intensity is lower than other energy extraction methods such conventional oil production, uranium mining and coal mining, which in addition, produced more waste per unit of energy.

Source: Andrew Kondash and Avner Vengosh, "Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing," Environmental Science and Technology Letters, August 2015.

 

Browse more articles on Environment Issues