New Study Provides Perspective on Water Use and Hydraulic Fracturing

A new study titled “Comparison of Water Use for Hydraulic Fracturing for Unconventional Oil and Gas versus Conventional Oil by The University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology addresses an issue that has been of great interest to many: hydraulic fracturing and water use.

EID has often pointed out that shale development accounts for only a fraction of one percent of the nation’s water use, but this new study adds another element to the discussion: it looks at water use in the Eagle Ford and Bakken Shales and finds that hydraulic fracturing uses no more water than conventional forms of extraction, when one looks at the rate of return for energy.  That’s because, as the study explains,  increased water amounts are used to keep conventional wells flowing as they mature, while hydraulically fractured wells use more at the front end of the exploratory process.  Getting to the heart of the matter, the study states,

“Although the public perception is that there are huge water demands for HF, results from this study indicate that HF water use to oil production ratios (WORs) for unconventional oil production are within the lower range of those for conventional oil production, considering the well lifetime.”

The report concludes,

“Therefore, increased water use in recent years is attributed to expanded oil production using HF and not because HF is more water intensive per unit of oil production.”

As Kristine Uhlman, research associate at UT further explained, “The difference is not how much water is used, but when it is used.”  She went on to say, “With this research, people can understand that the method for generating energy is not necessarily what’s causing more water use.”

This study by UT is the latest to provide important perspective on water use from hydraulic fracturing.  It follows a recent study by the Western Energy Alliance that found that shale development uses less than one percent of the total water in several western states.  A report from the University of Texas even found that hydraulic fracturing is actually helping the Texas cope with dry conditions because it is allowing the state to move away from using more water intensive energy resources.

While anti-fracking activists will no doubt continue to repeat their tired talking points on water use, this report is yet another indication that they don’t have the facts – and the facts are a good thing.

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