Home > Frac > Hydraulic Fracturing Series: Water Usage Objections

Hydraulic Fracturing Series: Water Usage Objections

As the debates concerning Hydraulic Fracturing heat up and the protestors circle with brightly colored signs and chants, we thought it would be a good idea to take each objection/issue presented by “Fractivists” to give them a treatment and present some thoughts about their objections.

We will take on each issue individually, taking care to ask some important questions of them.

This is the first blog in what will be a series.

1.) Water Usage Objections

There are objections in the anti-fracturing community about the usage of water in the fracturing of wells.

The arguments hoist water up as the sacred life blood of the earth and they treat the water as if it is in poor supply. They report that millions of gallons are used to Frac each well and then they attempt to explain how this is such a terrible waste of a precious natural resource.

They are accurate in their report that millions of gallons of water are used in the fracturing of a well.

What they don’t report, which I am beginning to believe is the greatest crime they commit, is how much water fracturing utilizes in comparison to other uses for water.

A million sounds like a lot when we think in terms of human consumption.

Drinking a gallon of water a day means drinking a lot of water and a family with 12 people in it would only consume 12 gallons of water per day. Millions of gallons of water compared to human consumption (which outside of industry is really the only reference point we have for water usage) is a staggering comparison.

But, when we consider both normative human usage and consumption and then compare the millions of gallons of water used in hydraulic fracturing to other non fracturing usages, there is no comparison.

According to an article by Popular Mechanics,

“…of the 9.5 billion gallons of water used daily in Pennsylvania, natural gas development consumes 1.9 million gallons a day (mgd); livestock use 62 mgd; mining, 96 mgd; and industry, 770 mgd.

9.5 billion gallons of water are used everyday.

Only 1.9 million gallons of that water is used in fracturing. Wanna calculate that percentage?

To give this more clarity, we are going to use some round numbers. Feel free to check this.

According the Eartheasy.com, the average American uses 100 gallons of water per day (Shower, Toilet, Sink, Wash, Watering, Drinking etc.) in a normal day.

Using these figures, this is 700 gallons per week per person, or 36,500 gallons per person, per year.

If the average family is four people, these numbers are multiplied by four, which equates to 400 gallons per family per day, 2,800 gallons per week, and 146,000  gallons per year.

According to the US Census Bureau, 12,702,379 people lived in Pennsylvania in 2010.

This math means that, in terms of normal use, Pennsylvanians use 1,270,237,900 gallons of water per day or 8,891,665,300 gallons per week, or 462,366,595,600 gallons per year.

This is for normal usage.

This is showering, using the restroom, brushing teeth, washing hands, doing dishes, washing laundry, watering the garden and the like.

Hopefully your head isn’t swimming with all of the numbers.

Granted, these are ball park figures but there is a question that begs to be asked.

How can Green groups legitimately act like water usage for frac’ing is a problem when the actual usage of water is less than fractional in terms of overall water usage?

People flush more water down the toilet than the Fracturing industry uses to frac wells.

If every person who flushes uses a water friendly toilet at 1.6 gallons per flush rather than the old 5 gallons per flush and those same Pennsylvanians use the restroom the national average of 8 times per day, that is 162,590,451.20 gallons of sewage per day.

The (sewage) contaminated water has to be processed as well, yet they want to interpret what is necessary for life when they protest. They don’t believe Natural Gas is necessary to maintain their quality of life.

When Steel was blowing and going in Pennsylvania, the state had no problem with it. They named a football team after the industry. With the decline of Steel in the state, the water that Steel is no longer using is being utilized by Fracturing companies.

Why don’t they name their football team the friggin’ Frac’ers?

The protestors never provide perspective because as soon as it is provided, their objections are ridiculous.

So, the next time they go to the bathroom and flip on the light (30% of electricity comes from Natural Gas) and use the facilities and use toilet paper (which requires natural gas to make) and flush 1.6 – 5 gallons of waste-water down the toilet (with an average of 8 flushes per person per day) or take that warm shower (also heated by natural gas either through gas powered electricity or water heaters using natural gas) for 8 minutes (at 20-40 gallons per shower), they should think about what the end of fracturing would actually mean.

They should put it in perspective.

It is what they need more than anything else.

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  1. Mike Malatesta
    September 25, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    Thanks for the perspective Jerry as well as the facts. There are many industries, like evergy production, that use tremendous amounts of water in conjunction with their production process (i.e. steel, foundry and chemical) and others as an ingredient in their products (i.e. soft drinks, shampoos and soaps and, of course bottled water).

    I see the issue around water not so much as exclusively tied to how much water is used in a particular process but rather how much water is lost as a result of its use. Since water is infinitely recyclable, water that is used (regardless of how much) but can be cleaned and returned to the environment for use again has little to no impact on the fresh water supply.

    However, processes that use water that is not all returned to the environment, like hydraulic facturing which typically returns or “flows back” 20% – 30% of the water used in the process (the rest stays deep in the earth where it becomes unusable), do have a depletive impact on fresh water supplies. In addition, most natural gas flow back and production wastewater in the US continues to be managed for disposal via “deepwell injection” technology that directs the water deep underground where it lost to environment forever.

    Recently, especially in the Marcellus, we’ve seen the energy producers make a substantial effort to re-use their flowback and other wastewaters for multiple fracs. While reuse alone doesn’t change the fact that 70%-80% of the water used to frac will never be available to replenish lakes, streams or drinking water, it is definitely a step in the right direction as every 1000 gallons reused “saves” approximately 700-800 gallons of fresh water.

    While breathable air is certainly the most important “scared life blood of the earth”, fresh water is the obvious runner up. Air to breathe is pretty much available in the amounts necessary to sustain life everywhere around the globe. Fresh water, on the other hand, is plentiful in some places and nearly non existent in others (and it doesn’t travel easily or cheaply). As a result, it’s important to objectively look at all depletive uses of water, like hydraulic fracturing and deepwell disposal injection for example, to figure out ways to improve or eliminate their “wasting” of water so that more if it can be recycled and infinitely reused.

    Recovering petroleum and natural gas resources using hydraulic fracturing technology is important and necessary to fuel our current and future energy needs. It will become even more important, and welcomed, as the industry continues to reduce, and perhaps eventually eliminate, its depletive effects on fresh water supplies.

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