Research from Duke University shows that our fracking practices are becoming more and more harmful to the environment. From 2011-2016, the amount of water used per well for hydraulic fracturing rose 770% in all major U.S. shale gas and oil production regions. During the same time, the amount of wastewater that fracked oil and gas wells produced during their first year of production also jumped up 1440%. That’s not good news for our ever-drought-laden climate.
"Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking," said co-author, Avner Vengosh. "After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources. We clearly see a steady annual increase in hydraulic fracturing's water footprint, with 2014 and 2015 marking a turning point where water use and the generation of flowback and produced water began to increase at significantly higher rates.”
To determine this conclusion, the team analyzed six years of data. They gathered data from industry, government, and non-profit sources about water use and natural gas, oil and wastewater production for more than 12,000 individual wells located in all major U.S. shale gas and tight oil producing regions. From this analysis, the researchers concluded that if the demand for oil stays the same (even at its current low) or rises, cumulative water use and wastewater volumes could leap up by 50-fold in unconventional gas-producing regions by 2030, and by up to 20-fold in unconventional oil-producing regions.
"Even if prices and drilling rates remain at current levels, our models still predict a large increase by 2030 in both water use and wastewater production," said Andrew J. Kondash, lead author of the paper.
The authors warn that that rate of water usage is unsustainable, especially in arid and semi-arid regions that are already facing droughts, wildfires, and heat waves. Better management practices will be needed in order to improve hydraulic fracturing techniques so as to not stress already vulnerable water resources.