Nav: Home

How much water does US fracking really use?

September 15, 2015

DURHAM, N.C. -- Energy companies used nearly 250 billion gallons of water to extract unconventional shale gas and oil from hydraulically fractured wells in the United States between 2005 and 2014, a new Duke University study finds.

During the same period, the fracked wells generated about 210 billion gallons of wastewater.

Large though those numbers seem, the study calculates that the water used in fracking makes up less than 1 percent of total industrial water use nationwide.

While fracking an unconventional shale gas or oil well takes much more water than drilling a conventional oil or gas well, the study finds that compared to other energy extraction methods, fracking is less water-intensive in the long run.

Underground coal and uranium mining, and oil recovery enhancement extraction use between two-and-a-half to 13 times more water per unit of energy produced.

The study also found that fracked oil wells generate about half of a barrel of wastewater for each barrel of oil, while conventional oil wells on land generate more than three barrels of wastewater for each barrel of oil.

"Water use and wastewater production are two of the chief environmental concerns voiced about hydraulic fracturing," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. "Yet until now we've had only a fragmented and incomplete understanding of how much water is actually being used, and how much wastewater is being produced."

Added Vengosh: "Our new study, which integrates data from multiple government and industry sources, provides the first comprehensive assessment of fracking's total water footprint, both nationally and for each of the 10 major U.S. shale gas or tight oil basins."

Vengosh and Ph.D. student Andrew Kondash published their peer-reviewed findings today (Sept. 15) in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

"While hydraulic fracturing consumes only a small fraction of the water used in other extraction methods, our analysis highlights the fact that it can still pose serious risks to local water supplies, especially in drought-prone regions such as the Barnett formation in Texas, where exploration and development is rapidly intensifying," Kondash said. "Drilling a single well can require between 3 to 6 million gallons of water, and thousands of wells are fracked each year. Local water shortages could limit future production."

Finding ways to treat and dispose of or recycle the large volume of chemical-laden flowback water and brine-laden wastewater that is produced over the lifetime of an unconventional oil or gas well also poses challenges, the researchers noted.

"Given the high levels of contaminants these waters contain, it's startling that the amount of wastewater being produced from hydraulic fracturing in the United States is nearly on the same level as the amount of water used to frack the wells in the first place," Vengosh said. "Yet the quality of the water that comes out is very much different from the water the goes in."

Because no single, reliable source of data currently tracks water use and wastewater production from unconventional shale gas and oil operations in all 10 major U.S. basins, Kondash and Vengosh culled data for their analysis from multiple sources, including the U.S. Energy Information Administration, state agencies, industry reports, the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry and DrillingInfo.com.

Although the new paper looks only at U.S. data, its methodology and findings could be used to project future water use and wastewater volume from hydraulic fracturing in other energy basins worldwide.
-end-
Funding for the study came from a National Science Foundation grant (#EAR-1441497) and the Duke University Energy Initiative.

CITATION: "The Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing," Andrew Kondash, Avner Vengosh, Sept. 15, 2015, Environmental Science & Technology Letters. DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.5b00211

Duke University

Related Wastewater Articles:

Wastewater test could provide early warning of COVID-19
Researchers at Cranfield University are working on a new test to detect SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater of communities infected with the virus.
HKU team develops new wastewater treatment process
A University of Hong Kong research team has developed a novel wastewater treatment system that can effectively remove conventional pollutants, and recover valuable resources such as phosphorus and organic materials.
Treating wastewater with ozone could convert pharmaceuticals into toxic compounds
With water scarcity intensifying, wastewater treatment and reuse are gaining popularity.
Polluted wastewater in the forecast? Try a solar umbrella
Evaporation ponds, commonly used in many industries to manage wastewater, can occupy a large footprint and often pose risks to birds and other wildlife, yet they're an economical way to deal with contaminated water.
Wastewater leak in West Texas revealed
Geophysicists at SMU say that evidence of leak occurring in a West Texas wastewater disposal well between 2007 and 2011 should raise concerns about the current potential for contaminated groundwater and damage to surrounding infrastructure.
Mapping international drug use by looking at wastewater
Wastewater-based epidemiology is a rapidly developing scientific discipline with the potential for monitoring close to real-time, population-level trends in illicit drug use.
Mapping international drug use through the world's largest wastewater study
A seven-year project monitoring illicit drug use in 37 countries via wastewater samples shows that cocaine use was skyrocketing in Europe in 2017 and Australia had a serious problem with methamphetamine.
Plant research could benefit wastewater treatment, biofuels and antibiotics
Chinese and Rutgers scientists have discovered how aquatic plants cope with water pollution, a major ecological question that could help boost their use in wastewater treatment, biofuels, antibiotics and other applications.
Predicting earthquake hazards from wastewater injection
ASU-led geoscientists develop a method to forecast seismic hazards caused by the disposal of wastewater after oil and gas production.
Stronger earthquakes can be induced by wastewater injected deep underground
Earthquakes are getting deeper at the same rate as the wastewater sinks.
More Wastewater News and Wastewater Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.