Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use: California Drought Edition

California is facing its driest year ever recorded, and Governor Jerry Brown held a press conference in San Francisco this morning declaring a drought emergency in the state. Challenges with water, and fights over it, are a recurring and ongoing theme in the history of California (as anyone familiar with the movie Chinatown knows), and a drought is to be taken very seriously indeed.

Unfortunately, in the face of a genuine crisis that will call on all Californians to be vigilant about water policies, anti-oil and gas activists are attempting to use this crisis as an opportunity to attack hydraulic fracturing.

Activists are peddling the untruth that hydraulic fracturing uses vast amounts of water, when it is repeatedly pointed out  that this is simply not the case in California. It is true that in other regions of the country the hydraulic fracturing process uses more water – often millions of gallons – than we use in California, though research for the U.S. Department of Energy has found that fracking still only accounts for less than one percent of water use in those areas.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a radical anti-industry and anti-science group, predictably put out a press release (we could write them ourselves at this point) claiming that “fracking” in California uses “enormous amounts” of water. The press release never mentions what these amounts actually are, because it would expose the full level of dishonesty in its activism.

Zack Malitz of CREDO Action, which recently held a conference call to mislead journalists about – among other things – water use, took to Twitter this morning to claim:

Malitz tweet

In reality, water used in hydraulic fracturing operations in California is is far from “water intensive,” especially compared to other uses. Here are the facts (note: one acre-foot is roughly equal to 326,000 gallons):

  • 34 million acre feet: The total amount of water used for agriculture in California (roughly one-third of all available surface water supplies).
  • 8.4 million acre feet: The total amount of water used on lawns and other outdoor residential uses in California.
  • 2.5 million acre feet:  The total water used for growing food and fiber in Kern County.
  • 202 acre feet: The total amount of water used in California for hydraulic fracturing in 2012.
  • 353,000 gallons: The average amount of water needed to irrigate a single California golf course every day.
  • 116,535 gallons: The average amount of water used to hydraulically fracture an oil well in California in 2012.

As you can see, the amount of water used hydraulic fracturing operations that take place in California are negligible compared to other uses. This is not surprising given than California’s geology means that we fracture far fewer wells than in other oil-producing regions, and each operation itself uses much less water.

However, oil producers are very sensitive to the competing demands for water resources and will make whatever adjustments are necessary to adapt to drought conditions.

At a recent hearing of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) in Santa Maria, an activist claimed that fracking uses “millions, and even billions, of gallons of water” — immediately after EID had testified to the facts above. Some activists, clearly, are more interested in making up numbers to suit their ideology than they are in a fact-based discussion over a precious resource.

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