Despite Claiming Otherwise, Ceres’ New Data Show Water Use from Fracking Declining
A Boston-based green “investors” group called Ceres, which is backed by prominent anti-fossil fuel activist organizations, has recently published its latest attempt to portray fracking as a threat to water supplies.
But despite Ceres’ best efforts, not only does the water used for fracking still account for only a fraction of one percent of the total water used in the United States, it’s also significantly declining.
Ceres’ updated data builds off its 2014 report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers,” (debunked here) that was an update to a previous version of the report from 2013 (debunked here). Here is what you need to know about their updated data:
#1. Water usage for fracking is in decline
“A total of 358 billion gallons of water was used for hydraulic fracturing over the 5-year timeframe, equivalent to the annual water needs of 200 mid-sized cities.”
While it is clear that the intent of the update is to show that fracking is a threat to water supplies, a chart included in the release shows a steep decline in water usage since 2014.
Of course many will likely point to low commodity prices for the decline, but there is more to the story.
Ceres acknowledges that overall water usage is on the decline, but they attempt to save themselves by claiming that “average water use per well doubled.” But in the process they also admit that may be a result of advances in drilling technology that allow for longer wellbores, which in turn, is allowing oil and natural gas developers to drill fewer wells. That means water use overall is going down.
Ceres also makes no mention that the decline also has something to do with oil and natural gas developers finding efficiencies and deploying technological advancements such as water recycling, ultimately reducing water usage. As a U.S. Government Accountability Office report suggests, even as the use of natural gas grows, water use will continue to be managed effectively, especially during fracking. From the GAO report:
“These technologies include the use of waterless and water-efficient fracturing fluids such as those utilizing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and foams, and the technique of channel fracturing, which has been shown to improve operational efficiency while reducing material cost and water usage in selected formations” (p. 19)
#2. Ceres (again) fails to provide context on water use
As with their previous report, the updated edition goes out of its way to avoid context. For instance, chief among their claims is that since 2011:
“A total of 358.4 billion gallons of water was used for hydraulic fracturing, equivalent to the annual water needs of 200 mid-sized cities.”
But researchers at Duke University find that the amount of water used in the fracking process amounts to a fraction of what other industries use, and well under one percent of total fresh water consumption in the United States. From the study:
“This estimated water use is 0.87% of the total industrial water used in the United States and only 0.04% of the total fresh water use per year in the United States.” (page 3, emphasis added)
Further, another recent report from the University of Texas finds that fracking is actually helping to shield Texas from water shortages because it is allowing the state to move away from using more water intensive energy resources.
#3. New report discredits Ceres’ own previous predictions
A central tactic of Ceres reports has been to make scary sounding predictions about future water needs. But this new update shows that those scenarios are not taking place. For example, in their 2014 report, Ceres was making some dire-sounding future predictions for water usage in Weld County, Colorado. From that report:
“Eighty-nine percent of the water used for hydraulic fracturing in Colorado was concentrated in two counties: Weld and Garfield. Overall water demand for hydraulic fracturing in the state is forecast to double, to six billion gallons by 2015, more than twice what the city of Boulder uses in an entire year.”
But their new update shows that in 2015, total water used for fracking in Weld County amounted to 4.8 billion gallons. And while Ceres predictions were significantly off, Colorado officials have also looked into the amount of water needed for fracking, finding that:
“[t]he amount of water currently used for hydraulic fracturing in Colorado is a small portion of the total amount of water used. In 2010, it reflected slightly less than one-tenth of one percent of the total water used. In 2015, it is projected to increase by 4,800 acre-feet to slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of the total water used.”
It’s worth pointing out again that while the Ceres coalition does include some institutional investors – mostly public-employee pension funds – the group also includes a large number of activist groups that actively oppose oil and natural gas development and fracking, a fact you won’t find disclosed in the Ceres report. Many of these members – including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Rivers and others — are actively working to ban fracking.
Besides these members, Ceres receives financial support from some of the most well-known funders of anti-fracking activism. According a recent annual report, Ceres’ donors include the Park Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Water usage is an issue that states and energy developers take very seriously. That’s why the oil and natural gas developers are continually innovating solutions to reduce its water use impacts, enhance recycling, and use other non-fresh water sources. Yet, rather than highlight innovations that ultimately provide value to the companies and communities, Ceres cherry-picks their data to construct a false narrative that intends to invoke blame on hydraulic fracturing for America’s water stress in what is little more than a transparent activist-driven campaign to scare investors away from energy holdings.