More Misleading Activist Claims on Water Use

Issues of water supply are always top of mind here in California. Indeed, water-related disputes have been a feature of our state since the “water wars” of the late 19th century that broke out over the building of William Mulholland’s aqueduct, which diverted water from the Owens Valley to Southern California (and which was dramatized, with much artistic license, in the Roman Polanski film “Chinatown.”)

Today, California faces a different sort of water challenge. The same fringe environmentalists who led the water-rationing campaign to protect a tiny fish called the delta smelt – a campaign blamed for the crippling unemployment in California’s Central Valley – have now developed a new strategy for hammering the region’s economy.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), along with other environmental groups, is trying to mislead and frighten the public about the oil and gas industry’s use of water, especially for the well-stimulation process called hydraulic fracturing. The CBD’s strategy is clear – drive a wedge between the agricultural and energy industries to boost the group’s overall campaign to kill off oil and gas production and oil and gas jobs in California. The CBD’s new strategy is particularly cruel because the oil and gas industry may be in the best position to put the people of the San Joaquin Valley back to work in good paying jobs that would replace the jobs the activists killed in the first place through water rationing.

The Bogus Claim

The bogus and misleading claim repeated by activist groups is that hydraulic fracturing in deep shale formations uses “staggering” amounts of water that are diverted from other (presumably more worthy) sources and put a strain on our limited water supplies. Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly in California.  When discussing California, the CBD states:

“[Hydraulic fracturing] also requires an enormous amount of water — a single horizontal well can use more than 5 million gallons.”

While the CBD and other activists consistently make ominous references to “millions of gallons of water,” they always conceal the full context of the issue, which is anything but scary. The U.S. Department of Energy and the Groundwater Protection Council examined hydraulic fracturing’s consumption of water across the country, and found it ranges by region “from less than 0.1% to 0.8% of total water use.”

In California, we use even less than that. According to the Western States Petroleum Association, wells fractured in California in 2012 used an average of 116,000 gallons of water, a far cry from the “millions of gallons” that the activists repeatedly claim applies here.

But if a hundred thousand gallons per well still sounds like a lot to you, here’s a little more context:

  • California’s  1,126 golf courses use an average of 312,000 gallons of water per day (much more in the desert). So, all of the hydraulic fracturing conducted in California in the entire year of 2012 used as much water as the state’s golf courses in half a day.


  • Looked at another way, the water used in hydraulic fracturing in California in 2012 totals 202 acre feet. The agriculture industry used 34 million acre feet of water in 2012.


  • Similar comparisons from fracturing operations around the country – operations that require more water than we use in California – show that attempts link hydraulic      fracturing to massive water use and diversion are misguided.

The simple fact is that water is a contentious and important issue here in California, and we need to ensure that we manage our limited resource in a responsible way that best meets the needs of California’s citizens, industries and our environment. The development of our shale resources using hydraulic fracturing will use a miniscule percentage of the water put to industrial use in California – not bad for an industry that is almost single-handedly keeping the United States our of another recession and giving us cleaner air as well.

In their misdirection on water, the anti-industry activists are trying to distract hardworking Californians – and those who continue to search for work – from the promise of job creation, economic activity and new tax revenues that may come from responsibly producing the energy trapped in the state’s deep shale formations.

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