Hydraulic Fracturing Faces Growing
Competition for Water Supplies in Water-Stressed Regions
Nearly half of 25,450 oil and gas wells evaluated in U.S. are
in water basins with high and extremely high water stress
future growth depends on accelerating solutions such as more water recycling,
better water management planning
A new Ceres research paper on water use
in hydraulic fracturing operations shows that a significant portion of this
activity is happening in water stressed regions of the United States, most
prominently Texas and
Colorado, which are both in the midst of prolonged
San Francisco, CA May 02, 2013
A new Ceres research paper on water use in hydraulic
fracturing operations shows that a significant portion of this activity is
happening in water stressed regions of the United States, most prominently
Texas and Colorado, which are both in the midst of prolonged drought
It concludes that industry efforts
underway, such as expanded use of recycled water and non-freshwater
resources, need to be scaled up along with better water management planning
if shale energy production is to grow as projected.
The report, announced today, is based
on well drilling and water use data from FracFocus.org and
water stress indicator maps developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI).
The research shows that nearly 47
percent of the wells were developed in water basins with high or extremely
high water stress.
The research was based on FracFocus data collected on
25,450 wells in operation from January 2011 through September 2012.
“These findings highlight emerging
tensions in many U.S. regions between growing hydraulic fracturing activity
and localized water supply needs,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in
announcing the report,
Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Growing Competitive Pressures for Water,
at Ceres’ annual conference in San Francisco.
FracFocus.org was launched in 2011 as a
voluntary national hydraulic fracturing chemical registry.
provides the location and date that each oil and gas well was developed and
the chemical additives and total volume of water injected down each well.
WRI’s water stress indicator maps are
part of a recently launched Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, which provides a
comprehensive, high-resolution picture of water-related risks worldwide.
The baseline water stress indicator
maps show the level of competition for water in different U.S. regions by
measuring total annual water withdrawals against the percentage of water
that is available.
Extremely high water stress means over
80 percent of available water is already being allocated for municipal,
industrial and agricultural uses.
By linking the two datasets together
through matching latitude and longitude coordinates, the report provides
valuable insights about the extent and distribution of well production
activity in regions with water competition challenges.
Colorado and Texas showed the highest
exposure to water stress.
In Colorado, 92 percent of the wells
were in extremely high water stress regions.
In Texas, which accounts for nearly
half of the total wells analyzed, 51 percent of the wells were in high or
extremely high water stress regions.>
In some Texas counties, water use for
hydraulic fracturing accounted for more than 20 percent of the region’s
total water use.
In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of the wells were in medium to
high water stress water basins and only 2 percent were in high water stress basins.
“Given projected sharp increases in
shale oil and gas production in the coming years, competition over water
should be a growing concern to energy companies, policymakers and
investors,” the report concludes, noting a projected doubling of oil and gas fracturing production in the coming years.
“Shale energy development cannot grow without water, but in order to do so the industry’s water needs and impacts
need to be better understood, measured and managed.”
As the report outlines, the industry
has made progress in boosting the use of recycled water and other
alternative water sources for fracturing wells.
Operators are starting to
use non-freshwater alternatives such as wastewater, saline water, seawater
and acid-mine drainage.
“Overall water recycling and the use of
non-freshwater sources must increase considerably to have a significant
impact,” the report says.
The report includes key recommendations
for companies and regulators, among those:
Comprehensive mandatory disclosure
by companies of how much freshwater, non-freshwater and recycled water
they are using region by region as well as how much water is returning
to the surface and where it is ending up.
Requirements for companies to set
quantifiable water use targets, including recycling and non-freshwater
Ensure that both companies and local regulators are conducting sufficient water management planning.
Ensure that companies have a local stakeholder engagement process in place on water issues.
Other investor focused initiatives, such as the Interfaith Center for
Corporate Responsibility and the
Investor Environmental Health Network's Extracting the Facts (see their
goal 6) have been pushing for better water sourcing disclosure along with
other engagement recommendations on mitigating environmental and community
Today’s report is part of a larger,
more comprehensive study Ceres is undertaking to analyze water risks across
the entire hydraulic fracturing lifecycle – from water sourcing to final
treatment and disposal of wastewater – across different regional basins in
The research is aimed primarily at
investors who have financial stakes in operators and support services in
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