Fracking Water Use Varies in U.S.

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Industry Tags: Fracking, Research, Water Wells

The volumes of water used in the United States to crack open underground shale layers that hold oil and gas are as varied as the American landscape on which the energy development takes place, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey

The volumes of water used in the United States to crack open underground shale layers that hold oil and gas are as varied as the American landscape on which the energy development takes place, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that provides one of the most complete maps to date of water use per well for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In addition, the amount of water needed to frack a well increased exponentially over the last decade, researchers found.

“Each basin is different, and each well is different,” Tanya Gallegos, a research engineer and the study’s lead author, told Circle of Blue.

The researchers combed an industry database and compiled information on nearly 264,000 wells drilled between 2000 and 2014. They found that horizontal wells — those that drill thousands of feet downward, then turn and run parallel to the surface — required significantly more water to frack than traditional vertical or slanted wells.

Over the last six years, fracking has revolutionized and revived the U.S. oil and gas industry, allowing drillers to tap hydrocarbons trapped in layers of shale rock and pushing production to levels not seen since the 1980s.

Most of these “unconventional” oil and gas deposits are located in the driest regions of the country, however, which has generated civic alarm about water use and pollution. This week, for instance, New York state formally banned fracking, the first state with significant shale gas resources to do so.

By aggregating water volumes per watershed, the researchers pinpointed which oil and gas basins needed the most water per well. The high-volume basins include:

  • Eagle Ford (southern Texas)
  • Haynesville-Bossier (Texas and Louisiana)
  • Barnett (Texas)
  • Fayetteville (Arkansas)
  • Woodford (Oklahoma)
  • Tuscaloosa (Louisiana and Mississippi)
  • Marcellus and Utica (parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and southern New York)

As production has increased, so have water volumes. Between 2000 and 2014, the median annual water volume used to hydraulically fracture horizontal wells increased from less than 670 cubic meters (176,995 gallons) to nearly 15,275 cubic meters (4 million gallons) per oil well and 19,425 cubic meters (5.1 million gallons) per gas well. The thirstiest wells, though, can require twice the median volume.

Source: CircleofBlue

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