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Energy Facts: How Much Water Does Fracking for Shale Gas Consume?

I’ve been writing a lot recently about the historic transition from coal to gas-fired power generation ongoing in the United States (see here, here, and here). Water is almost always front and center in these stories (see here and here), as the large amounts of water consumed in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to unlock natural gas trapped in shale formations has brought the water-energy nexus to the fore. 

So I felt a bit embarrassed recently when, in a friendly email debate about the environmental merits and demerits of shale gas, I was asked whether or not I was concerned about the millions of gallons of water consumed to frack each of the thousands of shale gas wells now dotting America. I realized I couldn’t really answer that question!

In reporting on the shale gas boom, I’ve been guilty of writing about the “millions of gallons per well” or the “billions of gallons of water consumed annually,” and leaving it at that. That sure sounds like a lot of water. Look at all those “millions” and “billions,” right?! But is that really a lot of water? Compared to what? Where’s the context for me or our readers to interpret what that means?

I frequently chide people writing about energy to try to find a way of translating their facts and figures into terms people can actually understand, since nobody knows what the heck a kilowatt-hour or a ton of oil equivalent or quadrillion BTUs really is anyway. The same goes for water, so I’d better follow my own advice!

So in this edition of Friday Energy Facts, we’ll try to tackle this question: how much water does fracking for shale gas really consume?

 

Part 1: A Nationwide Estimate 

To get a nationwide picture, here’s a back of the envelope estimate that should give us a good idea of the orders of magnitude involved… 

There were 27,000 new gas wells completed in the US in 2011, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Shale gas wells represented virtually all of the increase in gas production from 2010 to 2011, so let’s just assume for simplicity that these were all shale wells that were hydraulically fractured (rather than any conventional wells). So we’ll assume approximately 27,000 shale gas wells drilled in 2011, which was the peak year to date in the U.S. for shale gas well completions (shale exploration slowed in 2012 as gas prices plummeted).

Water consumption for hydraulic fracturing or fracking of shale gas wells (source: FracFocus.org)Then for simplicity again, let’s assume each well consumes 5 million gallons of water per well on average for the fracturing and completion of the well. The graphic at right, which shows the distribution of water consumption per frack job reported via the voluntary industry reporting database FracFocus.org (raw data available here). As you can see, the average here appears to be around 2 million gallons per frack job, but (a) some wells are fracked multiple times and (b) there may be some systemic downward bias inherent in the voluntary nature of the FracFocus.org data set. So 5 million gallons per looks like a good solid average estimate.

Given those assumptions, all shale gas wells completed in 2011 across the United States consumed on the order of 135 billion gallons of water. 

That sure sounds like a lot! But let’s put it into context because I have no idea what 135 billion gallons of water means, do you? 

All freshwater water withdrawals (surface and groundwater) totaled about 127,750 billion gallons in 2005 (see the infographic below from Lawrence Livermore National Labs, noting the different units [MGal/day] used there). Lets just assume 2005 is a fair baseline for total annual water withdrawals in the United States (remember we’re just looking for an order of magnitude estimate). Given that baseline, that means water consumed to frack all U.S. shale gas wells in 2011 represents on the order of 0.1 percent of total U.S. freshwater withdrawals. 

Water Consumption and Withdrawals in the United States by Use

So far though we’ve been talking about withdrawals of fresh water, or water removed from surface water bodies and groundwater. That differs from actual fresh water consumption, since a lot of that water, such as water used for power plant cooling, is discharged back into waterways without any contamination or treated in wastewater treatment plants and discharged. Since most of the water used in fracking for shale is actually consumed – about 80 percent of the fracking water remains stuck in the shale deposit, while about 20 percent flows back up the well as contaminated wastewater, which is typically disposed of in deep injection wells. So looking at consumption is probably a more relevant/fair comparison. 

Using the same infographic for 2005 as our baseline, total U.S. annual freshwater actually consumed (e.g. either evaporated or contaminated and stored) came to 43,800 billion gallons. With that as our baseline, total estimated 2011 water consumption for all shale wells completed that year represents about 0.3 percent of total U.S. freshwater consumption.

That’s all a rough order of magnitude estimate, but it indicates that shale wells are not as significant a consumer of freshwater as I would have suspected prior to running these numbers. By far the biggest sources of water consumption in the United States remains agriculture, which consumes on the order of 32,850 billion gallons of water annually, or more than 243 times more water than fracking for shale gas. 

[Update: As another point of comparison, golf courses in the United States consume about 0.5 percent of all freswhater used in the country, according to the Professional Golf Association. Tip of the hat to Robert Wilson for pointing this out on Twitter]

Those figures are for 2011 levels of shale gas exploration and may certainly grow over time if shale gas expands in the U.S. Or it may fall if efforts to conserve and reduce freshwater usage continue, as I suspect they will incrementally over time. 

Efforts are now underway to commercialize recycling technology to reclaim the portion of the water that flows back to the surface as flowback water. That could reduce net freshwater consumption by about 20 percent (the rest of the water generally remains in the wells and can’t be recycled). Several companies are also working on waterless fracking methods that use propane-based substances or other materials that then flow back and are recaptured as a gas at the surface and reused. I’m not very familiar with this technology (some of readers could chime in here in the comments), but it’s another possible way to reduce water usage or even eliminate it.

Summary: All shale gas wells drilled and completed in the United States in 2011 consumed on the order of 135 billion gallons of water, equivalent to about 0.3 percent of total U.S. freshwater consumption.

 

Part 2: Comparing Shale Gas to Other Fuels

Here’s one other way to look at this: how much water does shale gas consume per unit of energy produced, and how does this compare to other energy sources? Coal mining and processing consumes a lot of water, for example, so how does shale compare to other energy sources?

Luckily, a 2010 paper by Erik Mielke, Laura Diaz Anadon, and Vankatesh Narayanamurti of Harvard’s Belfer Center has data on exactly that question (no need for back of the envelope here!). Here’s what they had to say:

Water Consumption For Extraction and Processing by FuelThe recent shale gas transformation of the U.S. natural gas industry has also focused attention on the water-energy nexus, although the water consumption for the production of shale gas appears to be lower (0.6 to 1.8 gal/MMBtu) than that for other fossil fuels (1 to 8 gal/MMBtu for coal mining and washing, and 1 to 62 gal/MMBtu for U.S. onshore oil production). The increased role of shale gas in the U.S. energy sector could result in reduced water consumption (Chart ES-1). The water used for releasing the gas (hydraulic fracturing), however, has to be carefully managed at a local level. Concerns about potential contamination of freshwater supplies with hydrofracking fluids also need to be addressed. Natural gas-fired combined cycle power plants (CCGT) also have some of the lowest consumption of water per unit of electricity generated, helped by the relatively high thermal efficiency of CCGT plants (Chart ES-2). 

A couple points here: not only does shale gas extraction consume less water per unit of energy provided as coal or oil, combined cycle gas-fired power plants currently offer the most efficient way to turn fossil fuels into electricity. A pulverized coal-fired power plant will consume about 30-50 percent more fuel than an efficient combined cycle gas plant to produce an equal amount of electricity.

As a result, if shale gas displaces coal in the electric power sector, as has been occurring in recent years, then total water consumption per unit of electricity provided will actually decrease – by a lot. Assuming values from the middle of the ranges reported by the Belfer Center paper, and assuming a coal plant consumes 30 percent more fuel than a combined cycle gas plant, water use per kWh could fall by on the order of 80 percent.

Summary: Shale gas consumes about 0.6-1.8 gallons of water per million BTUs of energy produced. If shale gas is used to generate electricity at a combined cycle gas plant and displace coal-fired power, the quantity of water consumed per unit of electricity generated could fall by on the order of 80 percent.


Part 3: What About Texas? Shale Gas in Arid Regions 

The Belfer paper’s point is well taken though that water consumption is a local concern really. There’s plenty of water in my native Pacific Northwest for example, but what about down in Texas or up in North Dakota where shale plays are being actively developed?

Here we’ll turn to one last paper, a 2012 article in Environmental Science and Technology by by Jean-Philippe Nicot and Bridget Scanlon of University of Texas at Austin.  Their paper notes that as of 2011, total annual water consumption for fracking in the Barnett Shale, the largest play in Texas, is equal to about 9% of the annual water consumption of the city of Dallas, for comparison. They also report that total water use for all shale gas wells in Texas amounted to below 1% of all freshwater withdrawals in the state, although again, “local impacts vary with water availability and competing demand.” 

In other words, even in drought-stricken Texas, presumably the most arid of all regions home to shale gas development, shale wells currently represent a fairly small use of water, relative to other activities—cities and agriculture being the largest sources of true consumption and power plants being another large source of withdrawals, although water used for power plant cooling is subsequently discharged back into waterways. 

The paper projects that water use in the Texas plays will grow three-fold by 2020 if shale production expands. So that would start to become a more significant consumer of water, equal to a medium-sized city perhaps. But still less than 3% of all Texas water withdrawals. The paper also notes that usage may shift to brackish water to reduce freshwater needs in the future.

Summary: All shale gas wells drilled and completed in Texas in 2011 amounted to less than 1 percent of all water withdrawals in the state of Texas. That figure could grow roughly three-fold by 2020 as shale production rises, although other developments could reduce the amount of freshwater consumed per well.


Part 4: Location, Location, Location – Water Consumption is a Local Issue

[Note this is an update with additional info prompted by the excellent comments by Bob Meinetz and Matthew Lewis below]

As mentioned previously though, like politics, all water consumption is really a local issue. So let’s drill down from the state level even further.

Dimmit County TexasThe New York Times reports here on concerns about water consumption due to fracking in arid Dimmit County, Texas (location seen at right) and neighboring counties, all part of the Eagle Ford shale gas play. According to the Times. “in 2011, nearly a quarter of the water used in Dimmit County went toward fracking … that the figure will rise to about a third in a few years.”

Groundwater withdrawals from the local Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer used for fracking exceeds by one-third the amount of water recharged in the aquifer b annual precipitation and other factors, according to the Times

Clearly, depending on the source of water used for fracking, the local availability of water, and the competing uses in the region, water demands for fracking can be far from trivial.

As Matthew Lewis writes in the comments below, “in a state like Texas, where demand for water typically exceeds supply, an increase in demand of 1% is not trivial as it instantly throws the proposed use into conflict with other users.”

The flip side is also true in regions where water is more plentiful. 

In the Marcellus shale gas region encompassing parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, rainfall and surface water is far more abundant than in Texas’s gas producing regions. The graphics below compare average monthly precipitation totals in Pittsburgh, PA in the Marcellus region and Carrizo Springs, TX in the Eagle Ford region. As illustrated below, monthly average rainfall in the driest months in Pittsburgh is on par with the wettest months in Carrizo Springs.

Monthly average precipitation in Pittsburgh, PA

Monthly average precipitation in Pittsburgh, PA

 

Monthly average precipitation in Carrizo Springs, TX

Monthly average precipitation in Carrizo Springs, TX
 
In contrast with the situation in drought-prone Texas, Will West, a pro-gas blogger at GoMarcellusShale.com (and apparently a resident of the Marcellus region), offers a view on what water consumption for fracking in the Marcellus region looks like:

Let’s take an actual example. A drilling unit near me covers 351 acres, with two drilling pads. … One pad has 1 horizontal bore, the other has 3. Let’s assume … 3 million gallons [of water will be used to frack] each of the 4 legs. To produce the required 12 million gallons would require rainfall of 1.26 inches on 351 acres. Even in the driest month, October, with an average monthly rainfall in Pittsburgh of 2.25 inches, this means that the water required for fracking all legs would be replaced in just 17 days of rain on just this unit.

Of course, the drillers are not going to use rainfall as a water source. They’ll probably take water from the creek. I couldn’t find the flow rate of our creek but for one of similar size I found 80 cubic feet/second.  The total 12 million gallons could be taken from the creek in less than 6 hours, if it were taken all at once.  In other words, every day the creek carries 4 times as much water  as needed to frack all 4 legs.

Summary: Like politics, water consumption is a local issue. Fracking presents a major source of water consumption in arid locales like Dimmit County, Texas in the Eagle Ford shale region, where fracking represents on the order of one-quarter of the entire county’s water consumption. In contrast, in the more rainy Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, the water needs for an entire fracking operation represent about 17 days of average local rainfall in even the driest months of the year.


Conclusions

So what do you think? Is freshwater consumption a show-stopper for shale gas? Where does this weigh in the range of environmental pros and cons involved in shale gas production? Please drop a comment below…

 

Content Discussion

James Thurer's picture
James Thurer on April 5, 2013

Thank you for this excellent posting.  It addresses several issues that I’ve wondered about for some time.

A few quick items:

1)  I had thought that about 40% of the water used in fracking remained in the formation, rather than 80%.  Do you have any references on this.  I’m not trying to argue with you here – I’m just trying to learn.

2)  Do you have any idea why freshwater is currently used for the fracking fluid, rather than brine?  It seems to me that brine would be preferable, as it would more nearly match the chemistry of the natural formation fluid.

3)  It is worth noting that the greatest water useage for energy production is for corn ethanol.  I wish  the people who pretend to be so concerned about the energy/water nexus would become aware of this.  I find it astounding that we express concern about water consumption while mandating the production of corn ethanol.

 

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on April 5, 2013

Hi James,

Great questions/points. RE the source for the figure that about 20 percent of fracturing fluids come back up as flowback water, I got that figure from this article discussing recycling/reclamation technologies for flowback fluids: http://www.americanrecycler.com/0512/1517energy.shtml

That may be an inaccurate cite, so if you have other available citations please let me know. Thanks for the comment!

Jesse

Jesse Parent's picture
Jesse Parent on April 5, 2013

Another good one, Jesse. I think sorting through gigantic numbers to generate meaningful perspective is one of the more ellusive but actually vital things to aim to do, and this is on point with that. 

Questions that linger on the water front have to do with the contamination level and treatment of the waste-water or water from the process in general, and how that impacts local water sources.

But at least in terms of how does fracking impact the water-energy nexus, this helps sharpen the picture.

Waterless fracking – “but it’s another possible way to reduce water usage or even eliminate it” – yes, it is, and I can easily foresee it taking off in the future. I am curious about the waste products or related impacts of those kinds of projects, as well.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 5, 2013

Jesse,

In Dimmit and 4 surrounding counties in Texas fracking makes up 25% of total water usage and depletes the amount of water in the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer by the equivalent of one-third of the aquifer’s recharge.

That this is an extreme example doesn’t offer much comfort to ranchers in the area who are seeing their wells dry up. Like many aspects of the fracking and Keystone debates, while the opposition tends to exaggerate current problems, proponents tend to dismiss the effects of future expansion.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on April 5, 2013

Hi James, 

Just saw this via the NYTimes which in part answers your question #2:

“In 2011, only about one-fifth of the water used in fracking came from recycled or brackish water, according to a recent study prepared by the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology and financed by the Texas Oil and Gas Association.”

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on April 5, 2013

Bob, Matthew, thanks for the excellent comments. As you correctly note, and as I discussed in the article, “water consumption is a local concern really,” so taking a look at national or state-wide figures only gives you part of the story. I’m now updating the post with the data from the Times story Bob helpfully provided, to add a little more context.

Cheers,

Jesse

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on April 5, 2013

Thanks Bob, I’ve updated the post above with a new section including this data. Much obliged.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on April 5, 2013

Thanks Matthew. I’ve updated the post above, including a quote from this comment. Much obliged.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on April 5, 2013

Thanks Jesse. Glad you’ve enjoyed the series!

James Thurer's picture
James Thurer on April 5, 2013

Hi Jesse,

Here is a reference from the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the Department of Energy that states that 25% to 100% of the fracking fluid is recovered by flowback in the Marcellus.   I would assume that the values would be similar for other shale plays, but I haven’t found a good average number.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on April 5, 2013

Hi James, did you mean to include a link?

James Thurer's picture
James Thurer on April 5, 2013

It appears as if we’ve wandered into a discussion of water policy and agricultural and energy policy.  Although there are areas where local water useage can be negatively impacted by intensive fracking (at least in the typical manner in which it is typically formed now), that does not necessarily mean that fracking should be limited or suspended in those areas.

It is probable that it would be economically preferable to allocate the water to energy development rather than to agriculture.  One factor that I would like to see is a calulation of gallons of water per dollars of product value for various economic activities such as energy production and agriculture.  This is particularly pertinent for areas with limited water supply, and that are rich in fracking reserves, such as the Eagle Ford trend in southwest Texas. 

Is it economically better to use the limited water supply to support livestock, or to develop energy? My guess is that it would be far better economically to use the water for energy supply.  Similarly, it would almost certainly be better to dedicate the areas of the central plains of Kansas and Nebraska to livestock than to irrigate it to produce corn, in order to replace the corn from less arid regions that is being used to produce ethanol.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 5, 2013

James,

Economically preferable for whom? Water rights in the state of Texas are based on two schemes, riparian and prior appropriation.

Underground water is governed by prior appropriation, meaning (with some conditions) whoever got there first gets the water. Though the oil industry has been drying out the wells of ranchers, who have fewer resources with which to defend their rights in court, they will have a fight on their hands if they start inconveniencing Big Agriculture.

James Thurer's picture
James Thurer on April 5, 2013

Economically preferable for whoever owns the water rights.  If that happens to be a rancher, he could always lease the water rights to the company that wants the water for fracking.  He would almost certainly get a better income doing that than raising livestock.  If not, he could keep the water and not worry about it.

Bobbi O's picture
Bobbi O on April 6, 2013

 Hello Jesse,

  If  the amount of water for hydraulic fracking is the  essential  point, I urge you to learn more about  waterless  propane/butane/pentane  fracking by talking directly to James Hill at Gasfrac Energy Services Inc. in Calgary Canada and also to read the  recently released presentation in Pittsburgh from one of their Clients , Blackbrush Energy . This technology works well in both gas and oil formations ; often better than water fracking. Cost is coming down and is competitive in many parts of  Texas where formations are resistant to water fracking and water is in short supply. What is most important  for the environment is that no water is used, no toxic chemicals are used, all the fracking fluids are recovered at well completion, truck traffic is reduced by as much as 80%, and there is nothing to dispose of or decontaminate which is not the case with water fracking. This is a story that needs to be told in the current divisive atmosphere  between anti fracking  environmentalists and pro gas /oil proponents. Thanks for reading      J.O.

Wilmot McCutchen's picture
Wilmot McCutchen on April 6, 2013

The water use figures from 8 years ago (before fracking) are not the best evidence of fracking’s water footprint today.  The USGS site says:  “Water-use data has been reported every five years since 1950, for years ending in “0” and “5”.”  What happened to the data from 2010?  What about the water-energy nexus report that DOE was ordered (2005) to prepare?  With so much material existing water use evidence unavailable, whether by negligence or design, maybe that’s the real story here: conveniently missing evidence allowing energy policy to trump water policy in a drought.       

 

 

Fred Peckham's picture
Fred Peckham on April 9, 2013

Another aspect most don’t realise;

 

 

The U.S. Department of Energy describes the process as follows:

When one molecule of methane is burned, it produces two molecules of water vapor. When moles are converted to pound/mole, we find that every pound of methane fuel combusted produces 2.25 lb. of water vapor, which is about 12% of the total exhaust by weight.

The math connected with the chemistry tells us roughly 11 million gallons of water is added to the atmosphere from burning one billion cubic feet natural gas. Here’s the calculation:

1.5 litres (0.053 cubic feet) of methane = approximately one gram (0.0022 pounds)
One cubic foot of methane = approximately 0.0416 pounds
One billion cubic feet of methane = approximately 41,620,000 pounds
One pound of methane, when combined with oxygen, yields 2.25 pounds of water
One billion cubic feet of methane, when combined with oxygen, yields 93,644,000 pounds of water
One billion cubic feet of methane, when combined with oxygen, yields 11,242,000 gallons of water
Two billion cubic feet of methane, when combined with oxygen, yields 22,484,000 gallons of water
Therefore, our typical gas well will yield about 22 million gallons of water over 10 years as compared to the four million gallons sent permanently below the earth. The four million gallons temporarily removed from the water cycle is replenished within less than six months of production when combusted. If, to be conservative, we assume the well only yields one billion cubic feet of natural gas, combustion of that gas still produces about 11 million gallons of water that is added to the water cycle, which is more than twice that used or retained in fracture stimulation. This would require the combustion of perhaps 12 to 18 months of natural gas production.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on April 9, 2013

Fred, water which is the product of natural gas combustion is spread by the four winds about the Earth, with only a tiny fraction returning to replenish the aquifers which were drained by associated fracking activity.

Additionally, sInce surface water drains downward at an average rate of 1M/year, it’s clear this contribution isn’t something that can be relied on.

Deborah Hecht's picture
Deborah Hecht on May 6, 2013

Kevin, I couldn’t agree with you more.  Mr. Jenkins argument has so many holes, I’m tempted to serve it up on a cheese plate. One gaping hole is that he completely fails to mention the contamination of the water table by fracking, and what this implies.  There are 597 chemicals that may be added to water to aid in the fracking process.  80 to 300 tons (that is correct, tons) of chemicals are added for each frack, and each well is fracked up to 18 times.  Scientific analysis has found volatile organic compounds (VOCs) containing benzene, toluene, ethylbenzenes and xylenes in the wastewater left after fracking.  These four groups of compounds, knows as BTEX, are known neurotoxins* and carcinogens* (the latter being cancer-causing agents).  Only 30 to 80% of fracking water is recovered after drilling.  Where does the rest of it go?  The average well is 8,000 feet deep.  The average aquifer, from which drinking water is tapped, is 1,000 feet deep.  The contaminated water, which also contain natural gas, leaks up from cracks in poor cement well casings.  As the water travels upward, it contaminates groundwater and the ground itself.  There are reports of heightened numbers of livestock deaths, stillbirths and illness where animals are exposed to fracked water, either directly or through feed grown with fracked water.  Cornell University has published the first peer-reviewed paper** on this phenomenon and calls fracking, ” ‘an uncontrolled health experiment’  ” that could have further impacts on humans.  In California, where I live, we are experiencing a second year of drought that is making the first year look paltry in comparison.  We are all living in an age of global warming, and not to believe this is about as like believing the Stock Market will behave next year as it is behaving this year.  Already, my state is experiencing serious wildfires and record-breaking temperatures.  Last year, the US experienced some of the highest temperatures in recorded history, and only the droughts of the 1930’s and 1950’s covered more land in the contiguous US than in 2012.  Fracking is an ill-conceived idea, serving no one but the people in the energy industry, whose pockets it serves nicely.

*http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/interactionprofiles/IP-btex/ip05-c3.pdf and http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol101/mono101.pdf, respectively.

**http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/data/Bamberger_Oswald_NS22_in_press.pdf

*

Dale Warren's picture
Dale Warren on May 18, 2013

Jesse,

 

First of all no debate that the industry uses less water than power, refining, agriculture or even golf courses.  However it is the consumptive use and the lack of sustainable development relative to how they use water by the industry that is a tragedy.  Fact is they LOSE more water than any other industry from the hydro cycle.  It is not about how much they USE.  IT takes 4.5 MM gallons of water to frac one well.  It takes 4.5 MM gallons to run a coal fired power plant for 12 hours.  The power plant will pull it from a river, dirty some of it up, evaporate it as steam and cooling exhause then have to clean it up for discharge. They use the water.  The O&G industry puts it in a deep well when it comes back. No other industry is allowed to do this.  In fact a Shell refinery is not able to do this but a Shell upstream drilling and completion program is allowed to do this.  Why?  Cheap and easy access to disposal, regulations and apathy by the industry where they focus on how little they lose vs use.   This gets even worse when you factor in that for every bbl of hydrocarbon produced there are 3-5 BBLs of water. The O&G industry could be a net producer of water if we made them clean it up for discharge or recycle.  The technology is there as is the profit as it would not stop production.Today they do use some produced water for secondry recovery to get more oil out of the ground but only becuase it makes them money.  What they dont use they haul to a disposal well. There are 216,000+ disposal wells in USA. 50,000+ in draught stricken Texas.  Thus when the farmer wants it to rain, there billions of gallons of water in the system to fall from the sky.  This year the industry will LOSE 80Billion gallons, more next year and the year after. Yet they recycle less than 10% across the board.  The MArcellus recycles, only because they dont have deep wells. 

Debateing use vs agriculture is silly, it really is not a debate.  The next thing you hear from the sustainable development leaders of large companies is that they indusry is a producer of water becuase of the combustion reaction and we actually make water when we burn fossi fuesl. This is true but they fail to mention that for every bbl of H20 made in the combustion reaction,more CO2 is made than water..again not really a sustainable development debate.

Recycle and beneficial discharge need to be mandated and we need to take HF out of the fresh water losing business and make them use water vs lose water…  If it is good enough for power, steel, refining and every other industry why not O&G?  Answer…lobby, lobby, lobby by O&G.

A great paper titled “gone for good” by a group in the Western US was recently published that highlights many of these points.

We need unconventional development but we need water more and the consumptive use cannot be defended.  Ground water contamination can be resolved with cememting and well bore integrity standards.  Air Emissions can be solved with using NG as fuel source.  There is no defense for comptive us beyond recycle and minimising the usage is not a defense as it is not about usage but consumptive usage.

 

 

 

Deborah Hecht's picture
Deborah Hecht on May 21, 2013

You are talking about burning methane (natural gas), which means combining methane and oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water. But methane released from fracking is not burned; it escapes into the atmosphere, and is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.  In fact, the 20 year Global Warming Potential (GWP) of methane, compared to CO2, is 72.  I.e., in 20 years, it will trap 72 times more heat than CO2 will in the same period.  While methane has not been a large factor in global warming up until now, fracking is causing a significantly greater leakage of methane than other oil extraction practices and is thus having more of a warming effect on the planet than traditional oil wells.

What global warming is creating is hotter and drier interiors, wetter coasts, and higher oceans. You can talk all you want about how little water fracking requires compared to other needs, such as irrigation for agriculture, golf courses, water for cities, etc. But where there is no water, you can’t manufacture it.  Fracking requires that freshwater be treated with a number of chemicals to successfully, and the wastewater itself is a toxic brine.  While it is inconvenient to conceive of alternative (renewable) energy, it is the only possibility for our future, given the number of people who continue to be born and will  need to be fed.  

Bob Lee's picture
Bob Lee on May 30, 2013

A very emotional argument Deborah and I understand your concerns. I do believe that we need to find a solution to the handling of water but Mr. Jenkins’ point is that the actual amount consumed in relarion to the total amount of water consumed nationally is indeed very small. Pulling water from a water well will not impact or worsen the drought conditions in a particular area and natural gas is a resource that is needed to provide us with cleaner options for home heating, power generation and industrial demand. I do not know of a more reliable and accessible energy source that can be used to meet the demands we place on the industry. John correctly pointed out that the gas industry consumes much less water per energy unit that coal or oil. I know some will point to wind and solar but these energy systems still require a 100% back up from a fossil fuel source so we can all use our computer, TV’s and hair dryers (for example).

If you look at any one particular industry, its statistics will pop out as seeming to be outrageous but taken on the aggregate, natural gas development makes sense. Do you have any comparable statistic for groundwater contamination due to other industrial industries such as fertilizer production or coal mining development. There is nothing we do that does not carry with it some potential health risk. 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on September 10, 2013

Wait, are you saying it will stop raining and/Or that water will remain trapped underground forever?

Quote: “Longer term, agricultural “consumption” does return to the water cycle. All fracking water never gets returned to the water cycle but is either sequestered in the well below ground or is flowback which is either non-recyclable and is held in tanks, or is reinjected back underground. Fracking is the only man-made process I can think of that permanently removes water from the natural cycle. (Manned space flights would be another).”

Does the water cycle not include Volcanoes and Magma (geological processes) which release subterranean moisture?  Is there really even such a thing as “permanently removing water from the natural Cylce”, on this planet earth?

Does the Water Cycle not include the Vast Oceans which spawn most of the Atmospheric water vapor? Does most water being diverted for fracking not otherwise empty into the Ocean and/or evaporate?

Is the volume of water used in Fracking not less than a speck compared with the water vapor being released to the atmosphere from the Oceans? Are you saying that the fracking water will reduce the overall amount of surface water significantly?

Sorry, but I am just not getting the logic here, but even if you’re retricting your comment to a highly localized area 1) You should say so, 2) Would the Frackers trucking in water from more water abundant zones satisfy you?.

Marcio Wilges's picture
Marcio Wilges on November 21, 2014

I have never truly understood the term “gallon” also even after reading so many articles since as long as I have lived. However, the graphics you provided here somehow opened up my eyes and clarified my doubts generally. At least now I know or can picture what a gallon looks like and how a billion gallon does. That is indeed a great amount of water utilized in the fracking process and that is from both the removal of surface water and through underground means. Nevertheless, like you have mentioned perhaps we have overlooked the fact that most of those waters get discharged back into the surface for usage.

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