Study Shows Huge Variation in Fracking Operations' Thirst

The first national-scale analysis of hydraulic fracturing water usage found that water volumes averaged within watersheds across the United States range from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.

A study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in partnership with the American Geophysical Union shows enormous variation in the amount of water used to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells in the United States. The first national-scale analysis and map of hydraulic fracturing water usage has been accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a journal of the AGU. It found that water volumes for hydraulic fracturing averaged within watersheds across the United States range from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.

Maps on the USGS website show water use in this type of well in the 50 states and locations where conventionally drilled wells are most numerous.

From 2000 to 2014, median annual water volume estimates for hydraulic fracturing in horizontal wells rose from about 177,000 gallons per oil and gas well to more than 4 million gallons per oil well and 5.1 million gallons per gas well, while median water use in vertical and directional wells remained below 671,000 gallons per well, according to USGS.

"One of the most important things we found was that the amount of water used per well varies quite a bit, even within a single oil and gas basin," said USGS scientist Tanya Gallegos, the study's lead author. "This is important for land and resource managers because a better understanding of the volumes of water injected for hydraulic fracturing could be a key to understanding the potential for some environmental impacts."

Watersheds where the most water was used to hydraulically fracture wells on average coincided with parts of these shale formations:

  • Eagle Ford (within watersheds located mainly in Texas)
  • Haynesville-Bossier (within watersheds located mainly in Texas & Louisiana)
  • Barnett (within watersheds located mainly in Texas)
  • Fayetteville (within watersheds located in Arkansas)
  • Woodford (within watersheds located mainly in Oklahoma)
  • Tuscaloosa (within watersheds located in Louisiana & Mississippi)
  • Marcellus and Utica (within watersheds located in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and within watersheds extending into southern New York)
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