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Fracking is depleting water supplies in America's driest areas, report shows

America's oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California, new research has found.

Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found.

Fracking those wells used 97bn gallons of water, raising new concerns about unforeseen costs of America's energy rush.

Most of the western US finds itself in the throws of a serious drought. It is a region that can never take water for granted at the best of times, and the present is anything but that. While there have always been year to year fluctuations in the picture, climate change seems very likely to create a long term negative trend of changing weather patterns.

Fracking as a means of squeezing more oil out of the ground presents a number of environmental risks and concerns. The huge demands that it makes on the water supply is one of them. This chart shows where the most serious problems are.

The frantic attempt to maintain the American industrial economy in its present form is spiraling more and more out of control. Using natural resources on the assumption that there is an inexhaustible supply of them, has created our present environmental problems. Now we find ourselves confronted with the reality that the can be be kicked just so far before we come to the end of the road. Finding more oil uses up water that we don't have to spare. Many people are looking to desalination plants as a magic bullet to solve the water crisis. Those would with present technology require fossil fuels to produce water on a large scale. That would exacerbate climate problems and require more water for fracking.  

There is no magic painless solution. We are going to be forced to change the way we do things to a far more sustainable approach to resources. Given the present political climate, it seems doubtful that such change will come about in any kind of orderly manner. It is much more likely to be forced by crisis and catastrophe.

Originally posted to Richard Lyon on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 12:55 PM PST.

Also republished by Central Valley Kossacks, Southern California Inland Empire Kossacks, and California politics.

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Comment Preferences

  •  97B gallons is about 300kaf (3+ / 0-)

    Looks like a fairly big deal in TX.  Potentially a big deal in CA if fracking were to take off.  Right now in CA it looks like about the same water usage as about 15,000 households, or a single dairy, so more of a rounding error.

    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

    by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 01:26:43 PM PST

    •  At the moment in California (10+ / 0-)

      just about every bucket full counts. Since CA had fairly substantial oil fields in the past, there should be enough potential for boiling up some more. Certainly enough to spur oil co greed if they are given the free hand they are trying to claim.  

      •  They are still drilling more oil wells (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Richard Lyon

        in California than in North Dakota, if I'm not mistaken.  CA is the #3 oil state for production and has a lot of decline to keep pace with.  But most of those wells don't get fracked, despite the fact that some frac'ing has been happening in CA since the 50's.  The key issue is the geology.  Unless there is a breakthrough in technique, demonstrating good production from parts of the Monterey which are not naturally fractured, frac'ing will continue to be a minor issue here.  California would do the nation a service by creating a model frac'ing standard, in my opinion, but for now anyway, has little to fear directly.

        Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

        by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 01:49:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There's a lot of fracking under the radar in Calif (4+ / 0-)

          in the central valley, and other high-impact low-profile environmentally damaging industry increasingly going on. Even the right-wing-oriented news keeps reporting that air quality is too hazardous for people with lung issues to be outside AT ALL for days on end.(Water quality is not being discussed that I observe, only extent of supply sometimes)  They also report little "townhall" meeting after meeting in outlying community after community in which outside industrial interests team-tag with local politicians and business people in panel discussion format, with pro-frack and pro-chem speakers taking turns making presentations and attendees only givent opportunity to ask brief questions from the floor. Various family farm businesses (not necessarily tiny farms, of course, but not interstate far less int'l corporations, more like family farm companies and little corporations) and the farm services they contract with have been organizing with environmentalists to attend and try to really pepper the presenters with unanswerable information demands but the news footage tends to be minimal and edited on their questions.  The pro-frack pro-chem emphasis on "job creation" in oilfield service companies and other auxiliary services is going all out to be extremely persuasive, even though newer-tech and highest paid jobs both central and peripheral are filled by non-locals transferred here by the big corporations. The argument is then made that these new local residents buy or rent where to live which helps resolve the housing development crisis (it doesn't - overbuilding resumed about two years ago), enrich local economy by patronage of local stores, restaurants, grocery businesses, boost local tax revenue, etc, but realistically there are so few actual "added" jobs involved
          -because change of method in any industry or business generally involves eliminating obsoleted jobs and putting those employees out of work-- that all those arguments seem finally registering on locals as just maybe meaningless.

          Kevin McCarthy is a 'presenter' at fair number of those meetings, if tv news footage can be trusted.  

          There seems to be a problem that oil companies seem able to switch to fracking without any local jurisdictions having power to require formal public record of the fact and without having power to enforce much regulatory pressure for protection of local public health in terms of pollution of air or land or water. The southern san joaquin valley has been a poverty pocket laden with extensive environmentally-caused/worsened illness for decades and growing worse, between local pollution and pollution windborne from the north and northwest, massive annual chemical-laden sludge-dumping from the Los Angeles megalopis and points south that dries into dust and goes windborne too, thence onto land, into water, on foodcrops, it's everywhere.

          sorry but California has EVERYTHING to fear directly, because damage IS happening and has been for most of the past halfcentury, and the southern san joaquin is probably the worst impacted due to terrain and wind patterns.

        •  You don't frack oil wells (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Richard Lyon

          You frack for gas.Oil's in a pool that you tap into (remember the milkshake?) gas is trapped in geologic structure that has to be blasted apart.As exploration for petroleum extraction shifts to natural gas in California the demand on the water supply will increase exponentially.

          'The tyranny of the ignoramuses is absolute and inescapable' A.Einstein

          •  No sir -- you frack for both, but only (0+ / 0-)

            if the geology and money are right.

            and if the well won't flow well without frac'ing.

            You fracture source rock to allow trapped petrochemicals to flow where the existing rock is insufficiently fractured.  The well may produce gas or oil, or both.  It is usually easier to produce oil if there is also gas present.

            Here is a report on the 6 primary areas where fracking is going on, from a new series by EIA:

            http://www.eia.gov/...

            In the Marcellus, Haynesville, and Niobrara mostly gas is present and targeted.

            In the Bakken, it's almost all oil (although some gas is produced).

            In the Eagle Ford, and Permian, it's both.

            Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

            by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:11:55 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  What are your qualifications (0+ / 0-)

              as an expert on the subject?

              •  I don't claim to be an expert on oil and gas (0+ / 0-)

                I have a longstanding interest in energy issues (I grew up in a house with solar hot water, my brother lived off-grid with a large family, my father installs PV, and I work for an electric utility as an engineer).  My limited knowledge of oil and gas specifically is primarily via general wonky interest, and discussions at The Oil Drum and in other fora.

                Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

                by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:26:41 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  benamery2 is correct about longstanding hydraulic (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                benamery21

                hydraulic fracturing use for both both shale/tight formation  plays and for conventional fields for both oil and natural gas.

                http://geology.com/...

                •  In a much cruder version of this (0+ / 0-)

                  my step-grandfather used to "stimulate" septic leach fields to pass perc tests with a little dynamite.  

                  Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

                  by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:46:19 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  I think you're both (0+ / 0-)

                  conflating the 'fracturing' that was done before directional drilling methods developed since about 2000 and not prevalent until later,but what is standard industry practice now.The people who claim fracking is safe and it's been done for years without harm to water and air,yadayadayada,are factually correct ,but it's apples and oranges.

                  'The tyranny of the ignoramuses is absolute and inescapable' A.Einstein

                  •  That (old school) is most of what frac'ing (0+ / 0-)

                    is going on in CA (stim of conventional wells), but the Bakken and Eagle Ford are very clear cases where horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing are being used to target and produce oil.  There is basically no conventional oil being drilled in the Bakken (every well is frac'd), but production has increased in about 3 years from very little to ~1 million bpd with relatively little gas production.

                    Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

                    by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 07:03:20 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  There is plenty of gas production in the Bakken (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      benamery21

                      field.    However, only a portion is collected for processing and a lot of it is flared, which I consider to be an unnecessary monumental act of waste and pollution.

                      •  Flaring is at about 30%, (0+ / 0-)

                        which is a failure of the DMR to enforce the law, IMO.

                        However, all the drilling is targeting oil, this is associated gas, and North Dakota is now the #2 oil producing state, but not in the top 10 for gas.  Relatively, compared to other states which are fracking, there is proportionally little gas involved in the Bakken.

                        Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

                        by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 07:40:02 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                    •  I really don't know (0+ / 0-)

                      where you are getting your information or what your perspective is ,but I think you are misrepresenting this.The flaring of the 'very little gas production' in the Bakken has been photographed by satellites and is the brightest entity seen in the night from the ground between L.A.and the east coast.As for California,we're not talking just about fracking existing wells to release the gas,but drilling (and fracking) thousands of new directional wells that will use and ruin millions of gallons of water for every well.
                      Do the math.This disinformation is something I would expect from an industry shill.

                      "The tyranny of the ignoramuses is absolute and inescapable

                      •  I have no desire to antagonize you (0+ / 0-)

                        If something I said is incorrect. please point it out.  I am reality based.

                        I said "relatively little" not "very little."

                        Flaring is not proportional to production.  The Bakken makes up a huge proportion of gas flared in the U.S. because 30% of production is being allowed to be flared by an "in the tank" state regulatory agency (the ND DMR).

                        At the same time, 380% more gas is produced in the Niobrara per the federal government report I linked, despite the fact that 360% more oil is produced in the Bakken than the Niobrara.  

                        Relatively speaking, the ratio of oil to gas production in the Bakken is more than 13X higher than in the Niobrara.  Compared to a 'pure' gas play like the Marcellus the ratio of oil to gas production is 307X or 30700% greater in the Bakken.

                        Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

                        by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 08:09:34 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

            •  Having worked in the industry (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              benamery21

              to frack gas wells in the Niobrara and having only anecdotal evidence of everyday practice in other formations by long time denizens of the gas patch (aka:oil field trash),I stand corrected.The results of drilling yield a variety of petrochemical products and it always bothered me to in some way or another waste many or most of them if they didn't conform to the projections and expectations and ability to contain that which was not the most desirable.We always flared off enormous amounts of Methane,and as our goal was natural gas ,the oil was considered undesirable and subtracted,not added to the value of the well.Perhaps it was only a feature of the Niobrara,but the petroleum engineers that I worked with left me with the understanding that fracking was essential to recovering gas but detrimental to the structure if going for oil.

              'The tyranny of the ignoramuses is absolute and inescapable

  •  Rec this up, people! (8+ / 0-)

    We can live without petrochemicals, but not without water!

    The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

    by magnetics on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 02:15:35 PM PST

  •  Not only that- the water is taken out of circ (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon, benamery21

    When you water your crops, at least (most of) the water gets into the ground and ends up back in the water table.  The water used for fracking is polluted with chemicals, and then injected deep into the earth, and thus putting it out of circulation pretty much forever.

    •  Not necessarily (0+ / 0-)

      Deep well injection is one disposal method, and better than spreading it on roads or dumping it into the municipal wastewater stream, which have both happened and been legal elsewhere (illegal dumping is also a problem with an insufficient regulatory regime).  The gold standard would be to recycle water used, instead of disposal, without polluting.

      Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

      by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 04:42:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Correct about the goal of recycling, (0+ / 0-)

        industry is doing everything they can to become modern alchemists and instead of changing lead to gold,they just want to return water back into water.So far...not very promising results.Honestly ,the first one to figure this puzzle out will be richer than Crosseus and the reason big petro  is spending huge money to solve it is all about profit,not preservation.

        'The tyranny of the ignoramuses is absolute and  inescapable A.Einstein

        •  It can be done--it's cheap that's hard! nt (0+ / 0-)

          Iron sharpens Iron. Normal is a dryer setting. STOP illegal immigration NOW! -- Make it LEGAL. If Corporations are People--Let's draft them.

          by benamery21 on Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 06:41:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

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