Fracking Facts: Is Our Water Supply at Risk?

Fracking Conserves Water

In the debate against fracking and its impacts on the environment, there have been many concerns raised about the amount of water used in the fracking process and the potential danger to the depletion of our nation’s water supply.

Related: Fracking Facts: Cleaner Than Coal fracking actually using more water than the production of other energy sources?

Fracking vs. Other Conventional Extraction Methods

Before a power supply  can be processed for energy use, it has to be mined or extracted from the earth. Every type of conventional energy source uses water in its extraction method, with fracking using less than the others.

  • Coal: According the Department of Energy, mining coal takes a minimum 230 trillion gallons of water a year.
  • Fracking Oil and Gas: In comparison to coal, between 2009-2014, only 240 billion gallons of water were used in fracking operations across the country.
  • One example is that electric generation in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River Basin uses nearly 150 million gallons a day in the, while the projected total demand for peak Marcellus Shale activity in the same area is 8.4 million gallons per day.

Setting up a fracking well can take up to two times the amount of water than a conventional oil well, but research shows that fracked wells produce significantly less waste, making it a better alternative for the environment, especially over the lifetime of the well.

All together, the amount of water used in fracking is estimated to be at .87% of the total industrial water used and .04% of the total freshwater in the United States (Duke University). The area of the United States that consumes the most water in it’s active shale plays is Texas, however a recent study done by the University of Texas states, “ hydraulic fracturing is actually helping to shield Texas from water shortages because it is allowing the state to move away from using more water intensive energy resources.”

The Processing of Natural Gas vs. Other Energy Sources

After extracting the resource, it has to be refined and turned into electricity, and again the use of natural gas (as a direct result of fracking) uses significantly less water than other sources. The following table shows the amount of water used to generate electricity from the top three current energy sources:

fracking water
fracking water

Environmentalists are quick to point to the superior choice of solar or thermal energy, but it is unlikely that those sources will ever be able to provide enough energy to quench our national thirst. Natural gas, acquired through fracking,  is quickly rising to the top of the playing field as an environmentally safe and economical alternative to less desirable sources.

From a 2015 study done by Stanford University, “Fracking’s impact on both climate change and local air pollution is similar to its impact on water...Unconventional energy generates income and, done well, can reduce air pollution and even water use compared with other fossil fuels.