New Report: Fracking Is Stressing Water Supplies In Areas Already Wracked By Drought

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

A jar holding waste water from hydraulic fracturing is held up to the light at a recycling site in Midland, Texas, Sept. 24, 2013. With fresh water not as plentiful companies have been looking for ways to recycle their waste.

Extensive and rapid development of oil and gas resources by hydraulic fracturing in areas of the U.S. that are already dry or in drought is putting significant strains on water supplies, a new analysis finds.

The report by Ceres, a non-profit that works to mobilize companies and investors to promote sustainability, found that more than 55 percent of the wells that were hydraulically fractured, or fracked, between 2011 and 2013 were in areas experiencing drought and that nearly half were in areas with high or extremely high water stress. In areas with extremely high water stress, more than four-fifths of surface and groundwater is already committed to other uses.

The report used data on 39,294 wells.

During the time period covered by the Ceres study, 97 billion gallons of water were used for fracking, almost half of it in Texas. Other states with heavy water use for oil and gas drilling were Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado and North Dakota.

Development of oil and gas from shale formations has a particular reliance on groundwater, which are at higher risk of being depleted because that water source is generally less well regulated than surface waters.

The report described Texas as “ground zero for water sourcing risks.” Water use by fracking there is expected to double over the next decade, and more than two-thirds of the state is experiencing drought. California and Colorado are also at significant risk, according to Ceres. In Colorado the demand for water use in fracking will double by next year to 6 billion gallons, the report projected.

“Future water demand for hydraulic fracturing will only grow with tens of thousands of additional wells slated to be drilled, and many shale basins and plays are just beginning to be developed,” the report said.

Noting that best practices to manage water use wisely are “lagging,” Ceres recommended that oil and gas operators “should be deploying a variety of tools and strategies — including substantially improved operational practices related to water sources, more robust stakeholder engagement, and stronger disclosure — to protect freshwater resources fort the future.”