EnergyFactor By ExxonMobil | Pespectives has a new home

Fracking and water supplies – what’s the story?

Hydraulic fracturing does require water. And the increase in fracking nationwide since 2008 – which has helped boost domestic natural gas production by 53 percent – has led to increased consumption of water that otherwise would not have occurred if hydraulic fracturing had not become such an amazing success and driver of our economy.

As with any fact, context is everything.

Consider that in states with shale energy production, the amount of water used in fracking is a tiny fraction of total water demand, usually less than one per cent.

The average shale well in the United States uses about three million or four million gallons.

That might seem like a lot, but it’s important to put that number into perspective. After all, the amount of water required to hydraulically fracture a well is about as much as a golf course uses every three or four weeks.

Water for lawns vs. water for energy

According to University of Texas professor Rusty Todd in The Wall Street Journal, “Nationwide, the EPA estimates that landscape irrigation consumes about nine billion gallons of water a day. That’s more than three trillion gallons a year, or more than 20 times its highest estimate for the amount of water used annually in fracking.”

According to Todd, in 2011, during the worst period of a multi-year drought, Texans consumed 18 times more water for their lawns than the energy industry used in the state for hydraulic fracturing.

Gas vs. coal vs. nuclear vs. biomass

Researchers from Harvard’s Energy Technology Innovation Policy Research Group noted in 2010 that when it comes to extraction and processing, natural gas production uses less water than coal, nuclear, and some biofuels, on an energy-equivalent basis.

They found that:

  • It takes about 0.6 to 1.8 gallons of water to produce enough natural gas to generate a million British thermal units of energy (Btu).
  • Coal mining and washing took 1 to 8 gallons of water to generate the same amount of energy – about the same amount used for U.S. onshore oil production.
  • Nuclear power consumed about 10 gallons of water for a million Btu and creating ethanol from corn requires an astonishing 1,000 gallons of water on average to produce the equivalent amount of energy.

That context makes all the difference in the world, as my next post will make clear.

  • Worth a deeper look...