Analysis of data reveals unfulfilled promise of water recycling, gaps in industry reporting and state enforcement
Charleston, West Virginia, October 30, 2013—Today, a report was released that provides the most recent and comprehensive investigation of water used and waste generated by Marcellus Shale gas extraction operations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Based on state and industry data, the report finds that the volumes of water and waste are a cause for concern, and inadequate industry reporting requirements leave the true extent of the problem unknown.
The report, Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, was co-authored by Evan Hansen, president, and Meghan Betcher, environmental scientist, of the environmental analysis firm Downstream Strategies, and Dustin Mulvaney, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Energy Resources at San Jose State University. The report was developed in collaboration with Earthworks and funded by a Switzer Network Innovation Grant. The full report is available at http://bit.ly/MarcellusWaterUse.
Key findings include:
- More than 90% of the water injected underground to frack gas wells never returns to the surface, meaning it is permanently removed from the water cycle. This could have huge repercussions in water-poor states.
- More than 80% of West Virginia’s fracking water comes from rivers and streams. Reuse and recycling of flowback fluid makes up only 8% of recent water use in West Virginia and 14% in the Susquehanna River Basin in Pennsylvania, and is highly unlikely to be a solution to the water needs of the industry going forward.
- As the industry expands, the volume of waste generated is also increasing rapidly. Between 2010 and 2011, it went up by 70% in Pennsylvania to reach more than 610 million gallons.
- Water use per unit energy—often referred to as a blue water footprint—is higher than evaluated by prior research, even though this study employed a stricter definition of water use. While previous studies considered all water withdrawn per unit energy, this one only considered water that is permanently removed from the water cycle.
- States have taken steps to gather information on water withdrawals, fluid injection, and waste disposal, but reporting remains incomplete, operators sometimes provide erroneous data, and the data itself is not always readily available to the public.
“Water use and contamination are among the most pressing and controversial aspects of shale gas and oil development,” says Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies. “Industry and policymakers must heed this information to prevent water and waste problems from escalating.”
“Our analysis of available data and identification of missing data indicates that, even with new reporting requirements, we still don’t know the full scale of impacts on water resources,” says Dustin Mulvaney of San Jose University. “States should require operators to track and report water and waste at every step, from well pad construction to fracturing to disposal.”
“It is clear from this report that fracking uses and will continue to use considerable water resources, despite industry claims to the contrary,” says Bruce Baizel director of Earthworks’ energy program. “This means we need stronger public oversight of fracking, and also a more robust debate on how much water we are willing to part with for the sake of fracking.”
Downstream Strategies combines sound interdisciplinary skills with a core belief in the importance of protecting the environment and linking economic development with natural resource stewardship.
Dustin Mulvaney is an Assistant Professor of Sustainable Energy at San Jose State University and Principal of EcoShift, specializing in life cycle analysis and other sustainability solutions.
For 25 years, Earthworks has been dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions.