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Monster Wells: Hundreds Of Fracking Wells Using 10-25 Million Gallons of Water Each

Monster Wells: Hundreds Of Fracking Wells Using 10-25 Million Gallons of Water Each thumbnail

While the oil and gas industry likes to claim that fracking is not an especially water intensive process, a new report has found that there are more than 250 wells across the country that each require anywhere from 10 to 25 million gallons of water.

The American Petroleum Institute suggests that the typical fracked well uses “the equivalent of the volume of three to six Olympic sized swimming pools,” which works out to 2-4 million gallons of water.

But using data reported by the industry itself and available on the website, Environmental Working Group has determined that there are at least 261 wells in eight states that used an average of 12.7 million gallons of water, adding up to a total of 3.3 billion gallons, between 2010 and 2013. Fourteen wells used over 20 million gallons each in that time period (see chart below).

According to EWG, some two-thirds of these water-hogging wells are in drought-stricken areas. Many parts of Texas, for instance, are suffering through a severe and prolonged drought, yet the Lone Star State has by far the most of what EWG calls “monster wells” with 149. And 137 of those were found to be in abnormally dry to exceptional drought areas.

Texas also has the dubious distinction of having the most wells using fresh water in the fracking process. In 2011 alone, more than 21 billion gallons of fresh water were used for fracking Texas wells. Increased pumping by companies seeking to extract the oil and gas in the Eagle Ford shale formation, meanwhile, has been cited as a major cause of the state’s rapidly declining groundwater levels.

Other states with monster wells are Pennsylvania (39 wells that used more than 384 million gallons of water in total), Colorado (30 wells that used 470 million gallons), Oklahoma (24 wells that used 302 million gallons), and North Dakota (11 wells that used 129 million gallons of water). Louisiana and Mississippi each have three monster wells, and Michigan has two.

Here are the biggest monster wells in the country:

Click chart to view larger size.

There is no way of knowing just how much water is being used for fracking, however, because while the controversial well stimulation technique is known to be used in 36 states, only 15 require reporting to FracFocus, and none of the numbers that do get reported are vetted by any kind of regulatory agency or independent authority.

Even the data that does get reported is incomplete. EWG says that for 38 of the 261 monster wells, FracFocus did not even identify such basic information as whether the wells were drilled for oil or natural gas, or what kind of water they used.

Fracking has also been heavily criticized for exacerbating California’s extreme drought conditions, even though fracking in the Golden State doesn’t require as much water as it does in states like Texas and Pennsylvania. A state regulatory agency recently confirmed that nine injection wells were dumping oil industry wastewater into aquifers protected by state and federal law.

Once water is contaminated by the chemicals used in fracking, it has to be permanently removed from the water cycle.

DeSmog Blog

21 Comments on "Monster Wells: Hundreds Of Fracking Wells Using 10-25 Million Gallons of Water Each"

  1. Plantagenet on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 11:43 am 

    Thats easy to fix—just use one of the water-free fracking technologies.

  2. penury on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 1:03 pm 

    It really is a simple equation. Which product is valued more greatly in the indust.society? That is the one that will be produced. Until a real shortage occurs then perhaps common sense will prevail.

  3. rockman on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 2:19 pm 

    Penury – It’s also good to keep matters in perspective. Several years ago a survey showed that 750 BILLION gallons of water were used yearly to just keep US golf courses green. That about 2 BILLION gallons per day. The USGS estimates about 400 BILLION gallons of water are used in the US daily. So golf courses account for less than 0.5% of daily consumption.

    So Texas used 21 billion gallons to frac in 2011: that’s a little less than 3% of water used for all US golf courses. Granted Texas is just one state but we are the KING of frackers. LOL. So that year Texas frackers used about 21 billion gallons that represented about 0.014% of all the water consumed in the US. But let’s stick with Texas. Texas agriculture water consumption in 2011 was 3.2 TRILLION gallons of water. Which means all the frac’ng in Texas used 0.7% of the water used for agriculture. So the additional use of 0.7% of the amount of water used for agriculture leads to comments such as: “Increased pumping by companies seeking to extract the oil and gas in the Eagle Ford shale formation, meanwhile, has been cited as a major cause of the state’s rapidly declining groundwater levels.” And understand that 0.7% increase is just compared to ag usage…not all the water consumed in Texas. Total Texas water consumption: 7.3 TRILLION gallons/year. So compared to total water consumption in the state of Texas the frackers used about 0.3% of all the water used in 2011.

    I suppose folks that write such articles count on the readers being too lazy/stupid to look up the actual numbers to compare to their near hysterical spin on the situation. So in their own words when you add the correct number: “Increased pumping of an additional 0.3% of the water consumed in Texas to extract the oil and gas in the Eagle Ford shale formation…has been cited as a major cause of the state’s rapidly declining groundwater levels.” Pretty much shows the ridiculous bullsh*t propaganda spin, doesn’t it?

    And one last note: the oil patch doesn’t just take the water it uses to frac. It buys it from the people that own it…people who are free to sell it to farmers, ranchers, cities or just let it stay in the ground. It’s their water and thus their choice as to how it gets used.

  4. Keith_McClary on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 3:01 pm 

    “And one last note: the oil patch doesn’t just take the water it uses to frac. It buys it from the people that own it…people who are free to sell it to farmers, ranchers, cities or just let it stay in the ground. It’s their water and thus their choice as to how it gets used.”

    But if they “just let it stay in the ground” won’t their neighbours just pump down the water table anyway?

  5. Norm on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 3:01 pm 

    What Rockman said.

  6. Northwest Resident on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 3:26 pm 

    The problem with water “ownership” is this: Water is like air — it gets recycled constantly. The water that your cows pee in as it passes through your property flows downstream and becomes somebody else’s drinking water once it is on their land. It’s like China saying hey, this is OUR air because it is over our land mass, so we can poison it all we want. Problem is, that air circulates to other places, same as water, and what was NEVER yours to begin with but what you fouled now becomes everybody else’s problem.

    I know, it’s the law, water “rights” and water “ownership” are legally enforceable — but that is archaic law that has become a big problem for everybody in today’s interconnected world.

  7. penury on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 3:30 pm 

    Rockman, I was not trying to slam the fracking industry, on the contrary I agree that the amount of water they use would not be a problem, if you did not include the use of drinking quality water used for obscene things such as golf courses, lawn watering, my only observation was that the use of a scarce resource (water in some cases) to obtain another resource will continue until the value of the one exceeds the value of the other. Right now water is percieved by many to be in a limitless supply, when compared to the now supply of oil.

  8. coffeeguyzz on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 5:26 pm 

    California used about 305 acre feet of water to frac in 2012. The average Cali golf course uses about 340 acre feet/yr on its greenery. There are over 1,000 golf courses in the state.
    More to the point, companies such as Apache Oil use 100% brackish or recycled water for their fracs in the Permian. In fact, across virtually ALL the shale formations operators are increasingly using recycled produced water for their well stimulations.

  9. rockman on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 6:24 pm 

    p – “Rockman, I was not trying to slam the fracking industry”. I didn’t think you were. And I wasn’t defending frac’ng as much as I was attacking lies and misrepresentations. And if you’ve noticed I’ll readily go after anyone( environmentalist, oil man, conservative or liberal) that tries to hype and bullsh*t their way in an effort to cast a bad light on anything. Especially by presenting big numbers out of context, like saying a shale plays are very profitable by pointing out SOME wells that have a high initial flow rate.

    Bullsh*t is bullsh*t regardless of what side of the fence you stand. I knew they were over selling the “too much water for frac’ng” hysteria. But I was really shocked with insignificant the frac’ng water consumption is in the grand scheme of things once I researched it.

    As far as Ag water goes most either evaporates or gets shipped out with the produce. In Texas the bulk of the ground water withdrawal is recharged by rain falling in the up dip aquifer recharge areas. Cow piss don’t do it. LOL. And again, it’s the rancher’s business if his water gets turned into cow piss or frac fluid…and no one else’s business.

  10. redpill on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 6:44 pm 

    Wow, I was all set to call BS on coffee’s golf course water figures but a quick search came up with this NPR piece:

    “There are now approximately 16,000 courses in the United States — about half the total in all the world — and if you laid them out together, they would be as large as Delaware. And that Delaware of golf courses uses water, lots of it. They call them “greens” for a reason, don’t they?

    Audubon International estimates that the average American course uses 312,000 gallons per day. In a place like Palm Springs, where 57 golf courses challenge the desert, each course eats up a million gallons a day. That is, each course each day in Palm Springs consumes as much water as an American family of four uses in four years.”

    Glad I research first before calling BS. Can only imagine the look on someone’s face that has to spend hours a day getting that day’s water being told this factoid.

  11. redpill on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 6:55 pm 

    If those NPR figures are accurate, that’s 5 billion gallons/day, 1.8 trillion/yr. Woof!

  12. JuanP on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 7:14 pm 

    Thanks to Rock, coffee, and red for putting this in perspective!

    I have always found golf courses trippy, but I am greatful they exist. In my city, Miami Beach, the largest green areas left are the golf courses by far. If there were no golf courses there would just be even more condos, shops, and parking lots.

  13. Charles on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 9:03 pm 

    Does not water used for golf courses evaporate or get taken in by soil, maybe eventually making it back to ground water?
    Water used for fracking on the other hand becomes contaminated by ground contaminants and toxic chemicals contained in the fracking fluid. It is either stored or injected into special sites clear of aquifers.

  14. Norm on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 9:16 pm 

    No water shortage. Ocean is full of water.

  15. coffeeguyzz on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 9:26 pm 

    Now, as an uber Cornucopian, we somehow gots ta get Rock and shallowsand involved with Lockheed Martin’s revolutionary, graphene-based desalinization process called Perforene.
    Those two might make a fortune coming up with an effective, economical way to treat produced water.
    Heck, they may even sell it to those lousy frackers.

  16. shallowsand on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 10:58 pm 

    Coffee. I’m not smart enough to market anything, let alone understand how that works.

    I’m not upset with the “frackers”. Just wish they didn’t borrow so much and go so fast. Also wish there wasn’t so much hype. Bet they may be feeling that way too given we are headed to $60 IMO.

    Do like the golf course discussion. The golf courses in my area strictly use water from their water hazards. They are mainly rural nine hole pastures, don’t water roughs. 2012 saw the ponds get as low as anyone could remember. None make enough money to water with municipal water or any other purchased water IMO.

    Not near desert or metro area, so not sure what they do for water there.

  17. TG on Thu, 27th Nov 2014 10:26 am 

    This seems like a relatively reasonable discussion, so I’d like to add a few points.

    To accurately compare the water usage of these “monster wells” to average wells, you would need to know the length of the horizontal lateral section of the well and the number of fracs performed on those wells. It is possible that they were drilled to contact a significantly larger portion of the shale reservoir than the average well. In that case, their water usage per volume of reservoir contact would not look as monstrously out of proportion. That said, it is unlikely that they contacted ten times the reservoir as the typical well, which is what it would take to bring them completely in line with the average. The article could have mentioned that.

    Also, I agree with the argument that the water for golf courses, etc. recycles back into the aquifer, unlike frac water flowback. But that recycle time can be months or years, so there are always watering restrictions during times of drought. I guess you could say that there is no reason to restrict frac water usage since it’s not going back into the aquifer anyway, but that’s a pretty unsatisfying argument. The better path forward is to pursue waterless frac methods.

  18. TG on Thu, 27th Nov 2014 10:52 am 

    A quick look at the FracFocus database shows an average water usage of about 12 million gallons per well in the vicinity of the Swepco Deep #1H (the top well on the list). That would be due to a number of local reservoir related factors. Double the local average is still a lot of course, but not as outrageous as the story suggests.

  19. coffeeguyzz on Thu, 27th Nov 2014 11:56 pm 

    Hey, TG, good points all. I have been observing several companies’ positions on waterless fracs over the years (including Gas frac and Expansion Energy), but just today I came across the info that none other than Praxair is entering the waterless frac’ing field with their just-patented CO2 based system. That, coupled with several companies’ ongoing innovation to economically capture CO2 (see CO2 Solutions out of Canada), we may be entering a new era of waterless frac’ing.

  20. GregT on Fri, 28th Nov 2014 12:59 am 

    “The better path forward is to pursue waterless frac methods.”

    The better path forward would be to acknowledge that we are facing a global water crisis. Fossil fuel use is exacerbating that crisis, as well as the ocean acidification crisis, the climate crisis, and the overpopulation crisis. Fracing is not solving any of our most serious problems, it is only making all of them worse.

    Fossil fuels are finite in nature, and our exploitation of them is destroying that nature. We will survive without fossil fuels, but we will not survive without a healthy natural environment. What will run out first? Fossil fuels, or life on Earth. I think that the scientific community has already answered that one.

    It’s a trade off boys. Live high on the hog now, and kill off your children, or take care of the planet for all future generations.

  21. Kenz300 on Fri, 28th Nov 2014 8:06 am 

    Drought…………. what drought……..

    Tomorrow…… we will worry about that tomorrow….

    The greed is good gang wants it all….

    Republicons are funded by the fossil fuel industry and will do all they can to keep the money train rolling along……

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