Food & Water Watch recently reported that oil and gas companies have consumed upwards of three billion gallons of freshwater from municipal sources in California since 2018—resources otherwise reserved for drinking water and other domestic uses. This is according to data from the California Department of Geological Energy Management (CalGEM). Just under Governor Newsom, who came into office in January 2019, the state has used 1.44 billion gallons of municipal freshwater for oil and gas extraction (2019-June 2021). For comparison, these 3 billion gallons used for oil and gas drilling in California would fill 4,570 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or provide water for over 120 million showers for California households.
Considering the current state of California’s intense drought that has created the conditions responsible for the state’s massive forest fires, this is no small drop in the bucket; and this is only the tip of the iceberg. United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates the lifecycle cost of extracting and refining one barrel of oil requires, on average, 1,850 gallons of water. In 2019-2020, CalGEM reported an average 151.7 million barrels of oil produced from California onshore and offshore extraction each year. While this FracTracker analysis focuses strictly on consumption of fresh municipal water from domestic, surface water, and groundwater sources for extraction operations, in total, California oil and gas operations consume upwards of 280 billion gallons of water for extraction and refining annually.
Continuing oil and gas extraction will only add to the climate change feedback loop that has induced and worsened the state’s drought that has already spanned over two decades.
Oil and gas industry threats to drinking water are not limited to just municipal supplies meant for domestic use. Besides appropriating on average one billion gallons from municipal sources annually, CalGEM data shows oil companies used an additional 660 million gallons from surface water sources—including the California Aqueduct—between 2018 and 2020. Operators pumped an additional 302 million gallons of potable groundwater from California’s vulnerable aquifers as well. In total, the oil and gas industry consumed over 4.6 billion gallons of freshwater in that three-year span just for enhanced oil recovery underground injection operations.
This analysis explores the data detailing the industry’s consumption from these three sources of freshwater: municipal sources, surface waters, and groundwaters. FracTracker summarized the data to show which companies, production practices, and oilfields are the largest freshwater consumers. This report’s results should be considered a minimum for water use totals—as the data sources had numerous omissions—and different sources reported very different volumes for the same years (e.g. CalGEM monthly vs. quarterly production and injection reports). This report begins by exploring how hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations impact water consumption.