A new study from Duke University puts into perspective the affects fracking has on the United States’ water supply. While fracking is decades in the making, the researchers, who published the peer-reviewed findings on August 15 in Science Advances, used years of data to draw the conclusion that fracking is destroying the country’s water.
With “much of the water fracking uses lost to humanity,” the “permanent loss of water use for hydraulic fracturing from the hydrosphere” is higher than other forms of energy. The study explained that the water “is highly saline, is difficult to treat, and is often disposed through deep injection wells.” The study also revealed that “from 2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased up to 770 percent.” As Anthony Ingraffea, fracking expert and professor at Cornell University, explained in a ThinkProgress story, “that means we are losing potable water forever in many semi-arid regions of the country, while simultaneously producing more carbon pollution that in turn is driving ever-worsening droughts in those same regions.”
“Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking,” Avner Vengosh, co-author of the study and a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke, said. “The researchers looked at data on water used — and oil, gas, and wastewater produced – for over 12,000 wells from 2011 to 2016.”
And the water footprint from fracking is only set to go up, the study informed, which raises “concerns about its sustainability, particularly in arid or semi-arid regions in western states, or other areas where groundwater supplies are stressed.” Currently, the fracking sites that also have the largest jump in water footprint are located in already water-stresses areas of the U.S.
With the diminishing of global water resources, the study warns that fracking’s water footprint could increase some “50-fold” in areas by 2030.
“While the extraction of shale gas and tight oil has become more efficient over time as the net production of natural gas and oil from these unconventional wells has increased, the amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing and the volume of wastewater produced from each well have increased at much higher rates, making fracking’s water footprint much higher,” Vengosh said.