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New Studies: Activist Claims on Fracking and Water Use are ‘Alarmist’ and Wrong

Two new reports suggest that anti-fracking activists who claim hydraulic fracturing is rapidly depleting our water supplies are not basing those claims on hard facts.

According to a new study by the UK’s Chartered Institution of Environmental Management (CIWEM), released this week, the risks to water sources are “often overplayed” by shale opponents: “Compared to other fossil fuels,” the study notes, “the overall water use intensity of shale gas is low and claims by some opponents that the shale gas industry represents a threat to the security of public water supplies is alarmist.”  As the report also explains,

“The volume of water used in hydraulic fracturing for shale gas when viewed in isolation appears large. However, when set in the context of national or regional water supply, it constitutes a very small fraction and compares with other industrial uses. The water industry does not for the time being appear concerned about its ability to supply a shale gas industry as a customer and there are other options for supply, such as direct abstraction, should supply from a water company not be appropriate.” (p. 5; emphasis added).

While the report does mention that water supplies could possibly be constrained on the local level, it states that with proper planning and organization, these risks can absolutely be managed.

The report goes on to note the great benefits that shale development could bring to the UK, especially considering that “80 per cent of our domestic heat comes from gas. It forms an integral part of the UK’s electricity generation mix.”  It also points to the “example set by the US where [natural gas] has reinvigorated its economy; gas prices have halved and thousands of jobs have been created.”

Importantly, CIWEM isn’t the only group to find that the risks to water supplies are “overplayed” by activists.  

A recent study by the University of Texas found that hydraulic fracturing and natural gas use actually reduces our overall water footprint because of the efficiency of natural gas power generation.  From the report:

“Reductions in monitored reservoir storage <50% of capacity in 2011 would suggest drought vulnerability, but data show that the power plants were flexible enough at the plant level to adapt by switching to less water-intensive technologies.  Natural gas, now 50% of power generation in Texas, enhances drought resilience by increasing the flexibility of power plant generators, including gas combustion turbines to complement increasing wind generation and combined cycle generators with 30% of cooling water requirements of traditional steam turbine plants. These reductions in water use are projected to continue to 2030 with increased use of natural gas and renewables” (p. 1).

The UT report goes on to explain that for every gallon of water used by fracking, Texas saved 33 gallons by using that water to produce electricity from natural gas instead of other fuels.  Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology, explained it this way:

“The bottom line is that hydraulic fracturing, by boosting natural gas production and moving the state from water-intensive … technologies, makes our electric power system more drought-resilient.”

So just to recap: not only is the water use footprint of hydraulic fracturing overblown by activists, it is actually responsible for shielding drought prone areas like Texas from water shortages!

On top of that, overall water use from hydraulic fracturing is rapidly decreasing, thanks to water recycling technologies.  As the Associated Press recently reported, companies like Water Rescue Services, the company that runs recycling services for Fasken Oil and Ranch in West Texas, “is now 90 percent toward its goal of not using any freshwater for fracturing.”  And according to the Pennsylvania DEP, producers in the Marcellus are now recycling 90 percent of their flowback water.

Anti-fracking activists will no doubt continue pushing their alarmist claims about hydraulic fracturing depleting water supplies, but the facts are clear: natural gas is actually reducing water use, all the while creating millions of jobs, strengthening our economy, and putting us on the path toward increased energy security.

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