Putting Water Use into Perspective in the Utica Shale
It’s no secret the development of the Utica Shale requires oil and natural gas companies to utilize water for hydraulic fracturing. In fact, the average hydraulic fracturing job requires between three and five million gallons of water. Yet while that number may seem to be a lot, it is important to keep in mind some facts and perspective.
Unlike areas with arid climates, annual precipitation in the state of Ohio totals more than 30 trillion gallons, a quantity that more than adequately recharges the local streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers in our state. Ohio is also a surface water rich state, with 3,967 square miles of the state covered by water.
Water users of all types withdraw about 11 billion gallons of water each day from Ohio streams, lakes, and aquifers – roughly enough to fill a five square mile swimming pool to a depth of 10 feet. The largest users of water in the state are actually utilities: electric generation uses on average 8.9 billion gallons of water a day in Ohio. Rural and public water systems use 1.6 billion gallons daily.
Utica Shale operators have developed a total of 735 wells in Ohio between 2010 and 2013. During that time, if we estimate that each well used five million gallons for hydraulic fracturing, then total usage would stand at 3.6 billion gallons of water. Over the course of three years, the industry’s total water usage for fracturing operations is the equivalent of one-third of the water that is withdrawn in a single day — truly a very small percentage.
In eastern Ohio, where Utica Shale development is taking place, counties have sufficient precipitation to properly and responsibly operate. In order to estimate how much precipitation falls in the counties where the majority of Utica Shale development is occurring, one must extrapolate how many gallons of water one inch of rainfall creates:
- 1 inch of rain equals 5.61 gallons per square yard.
- 1 inch of rain equals 27,150 gallons per acre.
- 1 inch of rain equals 17.37 million gallons of water per square mile.
Now that we have established the amount of water produced, we can now use that data to establish how much precipitation falls on a per year basis in the shale producing region of the state:
- Belmont County averages an estimated 42 inches of precipitation per year and is 541.27 square miles in size. Using the formula, Belmont County receives an estimated 395.11 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
- Carroll County averages an estimated 38 inches of precipitation per year and is 398.98 square miles in size. Using the formula, Carroll County receives an estimated 263.47 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
- Columbiana County averages an estimated 37 inches of precipitation per year and is 534.69 square mile in size. Using the formula, Columbiana County receives an estimated 343.84 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
- Guernsey County averages an estimated 40 inches of precipitation per year and is 528.30 square miles in size. Using the formula, Guernsey County receives an estimated 367.27 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
- Harrison County averages an estimated 39.5 inches of precipitation per year and is 410.77 square miles in size. Using the formula, Harrison County receives an estimated 282.00 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
- Noble County averages an estimated 40 inches of precipitation per year and is 404.57 square miles in size. Using the formula, Noble County receives an estimated 281.26 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
- Monroe County averages an estimated 42 inches of precipitation per year and is 457.46 square miles in size. Using the formula, Monroe County receives an estimated for an estimated 333.93 billion gallons of precipitation each year.
The total amount of precipitation that falls in the seven most permitted counties is over 2.2 trillion gallons of water per year. That would be enough water to hydraulically fracture over 440,000 wells every year. In a recent presentation, Dr. Robert Chase from Marietta College estimated that operators in the Utica Shale will only hydraulically fracture 750 to 1,000 wells per year … by 2020. This leaves plenty of water for the residents of eastern Ohio.
Of course, this all has to be properly managed to ensure water withdrawals are done responsibly and with proper care given to competing demand should it arise. Following the passage of Senate Bill 315, permit applications to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for oil and gas operations must identify the source of groundwater and/or surface water that will be used in a well’s production operations (e.g., hydraulic fracturing operations). They also must specifically state whether the water will be withdrawn from the watersheds of Lake Erie or the Ohio River.
These parameters help establish a baseline to ensure water is withdrawn in an efficient manner without negative impacts to local water supplies.
While water use will remain a hot topic by those who are against oil and gas development, it is important that the narrative surrounding the use of water be kept in the proper perspective. Eastern Ohio is blessed with a significant amount of rainfall each year, which adequately recharges our aquifers, rivers, lakes and streams. By allowing entities to capture and sell this water, municipalities and others are gaining a new revenue stream to help provide funds for their communities and organizations – and doing so will not threaten water use by other industries critical to Ohio’s growth, contrary to claims by activists.