A new report released today reveals the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas development on freshwater resources in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The report, Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, provides the most recent and comprehensive investigation of water used and waste generated by fracking operations in the two states.
“Water use and contamination are among the most pressing and controversial aspects of shale gas and oil development,” says Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies. “Industry and policymakers must heed this information to prevent water and waste problems from escalating.”
The report—based on state and industry data—finds that the volumes of water and waste are a cause for concern, and inadequate industry reporting requirements leave the true extent of the problem unknown, according to a press release. The fracking boom has put a major strain on water resources all over the U.S.
“Our analysis of available data and identification of missing data indicates that, even with new reporting requirements, we still don’t know the full scale of impacts on water resources,” says Dustin Mulvaney of San Jose University. “States should require operators to track and report water and waste at every step, from well pad construction to fracturing to disposal.”
Among the findings:
More than 90 percent of the water injected underground to frack gas wells never returns to the surface, meaning it is permanently removed from the water cycle. This could have huge repercussions in water-poor states.
More than 80 percent of West Virginia’s fracking water comes from rivers and streams. Reuse and recycling of flowback fluid makes up only eight percent of recent water use in West Virginia and 14 percent in the Susquehanna River Basin in Pennsylvania, and is highly unlikely to be a solution to the water needs of the industry going forward.
As the industry expands, the volume of waste generated is also increasing rapidly. Between 2010 and 2011, it went up by 70 percent in Pennsylvania to reach more than 610 million gallons.
Water use per unit energy—often referred to as a blue water footprint—is higher than evaluated by prior research, even though this study employed a stricter definition of water use. While previous studies considered all water withdrawn per unit energy, this one only considered water that is permanently removed from the water cycle.
States have taken steps to gather information on water withdrawals, fluid injection, and waste disposal, but reporting remains incomplete, operators sometimes provide erroneous data, and the data itself is not always readily available to the public.
“It is clear from this report that fracking uses and will continue to use considerable water resources, despite industry claims to the contrary,” says Bruce Baizel director of Earthworks’ energy program. “This means we need stronger public oversight of fracking, and also a more robust debate on how much water we are willing to part with for the sake of fracking.”