Despite Drought, Hundreds of Fracking Sites Used More Than 10 Million Gallons of Water
By Soren Rundquist, Landscape and Remote Sensing Analyst & Bill Walker, Consultant
Former EWG Staff Attorney Briana Dema and former EWG Stanbeck Intern Elizabeth Kerpon contributed to this report.
When it’s confronted with the growing concern about the vast volumes of water used in hydraulic fracturing of gas and oil wells, industry tries to dodge the question.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) points out that drilling wells with hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology, commonly called “fracking,” consumes far less water than other commonplace activities such as raising livestock, irrigating crops or even watering golf courses. According to the Institute, the amount of water used to frack one natural gas well “typically is the equivalent of three to six Olympic swimming pools.”1
That amounts to 2-to-4 million gallons per well of a precious and, in many parts of the country, increasingly scarce resource.2 For its part, the Environmental Protection Agency says it takes “fifty thousand to 350,000 gallons to frack one well in a coal bed formation, while two-to-five million gallons of water may be necessary to fracture one horizontal well in a shale formation.”3
But data reported and verified by the industry itself reveal that those “typical” amounts are hardly the upper limit. An analysis by Environmental Working Group reveals that hundreds of fracked gas and oil wells across the country are monster wells that required 10 million to almost 25 million gallons of water each.
Between April 2010 and December 2013 (the latest figures available), data from the industry-operated website FracFocus.org, acquired by Skytruth.org, show that there were 261 wells fracked with at least 10 million gallons of water each (Table 1). EWG’s analysis found:
- It took a grand total of more than 3.3 billion gallons of water to frack the 261 wells – an average of 12.7 million gallons each. Fourteen used more than 20 million gallons each.
- About two-thirds of the wells, requiring a total of about 2.1 billion gallons, were in drought-stricken areas.
It’s far more relevant to compare those figures to basic human needs for water, rather than to swimming pools or golf courses. The 3.3 billion gallons consumed by the monster wells was almost twice as much water as is needed each year by the people of Atascosa County, Texas, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale formation, one of the most intensively drilled gas and oil fields in the country.4 Like almost all of the Lone Star State, Atascosa County, south of San Antonio, is in a severe and prolonged drought. Last year, the state water agency cited oil and gas exploration and production as a factor in the dramatic drop of groundwater levels in the aquifer underlying the Eagle Ford formation. 5