Shale drilling and fracking often occurs in areas already suffering from water stress. Credit: Duke University.
By Sharon Kelly
Between 2011 and 2016, fracked oil and gas wells in the U.S. pumped out record-breaking amounts of wastewater, which is laced with toxic and radioactive materials, a new Duke University study concludes. The amount of wastewater from fracking rose 1,440 percent during that period.
Over the same time, the total amount of water used for fracking rose roughly half as much, 770 percent, according to the paper published today in the journal Science Advances.
“Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking,” Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a statement. “After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources.”
The researchers predict that spike in water use will continue to climb.
And over the next dozen years, they say the amount of water used could grow up to 50 times higher when fracking for shale gas and 20 times higher when fracking for oil — should prices rise. The paper, titled “The Intensification of the Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing,” was based on a study conducted with funding from the National Science Foundation.
“Even if prices and drilling rates remain at current levels, our models still predict a large increase by 2030 in both water use and wastewater production,” said Andrew J. Kondash, a PhD student in Vengosh’s lab who was lead author of the paper.
More Water than Oil
The shale industry has been heavily focused on amping up the amount of fossil fuels it can pump per well by drilling longer horizontal well bores and using more sand, water, and chemicals when fracking (which raises the costs per well and, as DeSmog recently reported, raises risks of water pollution).
But the water use and wastewater production per well have been growing even faster than the per-well fossil fuel production, the researchers found, labeling the water demand and wastewater growth “much higher” than the oil or gas increases.
The researchers studied data from over 12,000 oil and gas wells representing each of the major shale-producing regions in the U.S.
Their findings are particularly troubling news for arid areas like the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, where underground water supplies are already taxed by residential and agricultural demand, and where fights over water use are brewing.
On average, a Permian Basin well used 10.3 million gallons of water in 2016, according to a San Antonio Express-News investigation earlier this year — more than double the average per-well demand just a few years ago.
A Waterfall of Waste
The wastewater problem has attracted the eye of industry analysts, particularly in the Permian.
“One of the biggest risks facing operators today is the issue of produced water,” wrote Ryan Duman, a Wood Mackenzie senior energy analyst, describing how in parts of Texas and New Mexico, wells can produce up to 10 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of crude oil. “The sheer volume of water is unprecedented.” READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE HERE.