Increased demand and decreased availability are pushing water quantity to the forefront of public discussion.
The main variable for the volume of water used in fracking is the geology of the basin being fracked.
What do we know about actual volumes of water used in different states to frack the shale formations? Very little, until recently, when a number of states began requiring that water volumes used in hydraulic fracturing operations be reported on the FracFocus website. Colleagues of mine just recently collected the data reported there.
Texas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Colorado are the 4 largest users of water, by volume, for hydraulic fracturing. However, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia and Pennsylvania are the 4 largest users, based upon volume per frack, with each frack taking, on average, between 5.3 and 4.3 million gallons of water.
Unlike municipal, agricultural, and most other water uses, 100% of water used for drilling and fracking is fully consumed. Although fracking water may be recycled and reused for other wells, because of its poor quality, it is consumed or disposed of entirely rather than being returned to area streams.
Water withdrawals can result in a decrease in the availability of public water supply; adverse effects on aquatic habitats and ecosystems due to water degradation; changes to water temperature; and erosion. Areas already experiencing water scarcity may be affected especially if the longer term climate change impacts of water supply and demand are taken into account. Reduced water levels may also lead to chemical changes in a water aquifer resulting in bacterial growth – causing taste and odor problems with drinking water.
What should states be addressing relative to water quantity?
States should address the availability of water for hydraulic fracturing in the context of all competing uses and potential environmental impacts resulting from the volume of water used for hydraulic fracturing. Are states or interstate river basin commissions doing this?
In my experience, they are not – some regulators are beginning to engage in the discussion. For example, when STRONGER reviewed one state’s hydraulic fracturing regulations, there was no one present from any of the agencies with authority over water quantity or planning. Since then, the state has put together an estimate of the amount of water used by fracking operations.
In the east and the west, water for fracking has become a big business. It is time for the regulators to step up.