In the past few years a number of state-specific analyses have been published with information on the lifecycle management of oil and gas water and wastes. (See Appendix A for a list of studies referenced in this report)
These investigations raise questions regarding where current and future water for hydraulic fracturing might come from, and the need to evaluate oil and gas water requirements in relation to other water users.
Several studies have taken a close look at the disposal of fluid wastes that are extracted from oil and gas wells – including near-term flowback of hydraulic fracturing fluids, and produced water that is extracted over the longer term. Such wastes pose management challenges because of their high volumes, but they also are a potential source of water to be re-used for other purposes if the fluids can be treated to achieve acceptable water quality. Understanding current disposal practice is necessary to plan and evaluate waste fluid management options.
What has become clear from reviewing the studies is that data challenges exist that make it difficult to perform detailed, accurate water and waste management analyses.
Availability and access to data varies greatly from state to state. In some cases, there is no requirement for operators to report certain types of information; often the data are not presented in formats that would provide for ready data analysis (e.g., spreadsheets); and in some states data are only accessible via payment or freedom-of-information type requests.
And, when data are obtained, they are often incomplete or contain errors.
In 2013, researchers from Downstream Strategies and San Jose State University developed a report in collaboration with Earthworks to investigate water use and waste disposal requirements and practices in the Marcellus Shale. The resulting report applied the concept of life cycle analysis to calculate the water footprint of the extraction phase of natural gas from Marcellus Shale.
In 2014, Earthworks set out to see if it was possible to perform similar water footprint lifecycle analyses for the shale oil plays in Colorado and Texas. We discovered it is not possible due to shortcomings in state reporting requirements and data collection.
As a result, this paper has been written to summarize some of the water-and-waste-related information gaps in Colorado and Texas. We also reviewed water and waste reporting requirements in North Dakota, as that state, similar to Colorado and Texas, has experienced high rates of drilling, combined with water challenges. We contrast the information available in those three states with water and waste data available in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
When we came across data in formats that were relatively accessible, we carried out analyses to demonstrate the type of information that could be generated from the data.
Ultimately, this report highlights where state reporting requirements and public disclosure could be improved so that regulators, academics, community planners, and non-governmental organizations can access the data needed to fully analyze and understand current and future water use and waste disposal requirements, and plan accordingly.