We know that fracking is fueling climate change, damaging kids’ brains, endangering nearby water supplies, polluting the air, and threatening the health of nearby wildlife and humans. But what about the extreme amount of freshwater that it wastes?
A new study published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology shows that the five million gallons of freshwater used to fracture just ONE gas well is severely depleting water levels in over half the streams in Arkansas.
To put that number into perspective – five million gallons equals 250,000 bathtubs, or seven Olympic-sized swimming pools.
In Arkansas, water is taken from local stream and pumped deep underground, along with sand and chemicals, in order to frack a well and get access to the natural gas. Each well uses approximately 5 million gallons of freshwater from small streams over a two-to-five day period.
Findings from the study also show that short duration water withdrawals from the streams creates stress to aquatic organisms in Fayetteville Shale streams. These same streams also supply drinking water to thousands of people locally. Freshwater usage for fracking from the streams can affect aquatic organisms by 7 to 51 percent of the catchments – which is causing 10 aquatic species to decline at an alarming rate.
Drawing out so much water from these stream causes temperatures to fluctuate, affecting stream flow and thus affecting aquatic insects, fish and bottom-dwelling mussels. This process would be much more critical to local streams during the summer.
The study specifically focused on streams around Fayetteville Shale play, an active gas field that is heavily affected by local fracking. More than 5,000 gas wells were drilled using fracking techniques between 2004 and 2014.
There were problems during the study, however. Because researchers could not perfectly “obtain detailed data on how much water was pumped from which stream and when” the team admits that they don’t have full knowledge of the impact on the streams. Site-specific monitoring and more accessible and precise withdrawal and streamflow data is critical to understanding the full range of water stress in Arkansas’s streams.