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WV Field Visits 2013

H 2 O Where Did It Go?

By Mary Ellen Cassidy, Community Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

A Water Use Series

Many of us do our best to stay current with the latest research related to water impacts from unconventional drilling activities, especially those related to hydraulic fracturing.  However, after attending presentations and reading recent publications, I realized that I knew too little about questions like:

  • How much water is used by hydraulic fracturing activities, in general?
  • How much of that can eventually be used for drinking water again?
  • How much is removed from the hydrologic cycle permanently?

To help answer these kinds of questions, FracTracker will be running a series of articles that look at the issue of drilling-related water consumption, the potential community impacts, and recommendations to protect community water resources.

Ceres Report

We have posted several articles on water use and scarcity in the past here, here, here and here.  This article in the series will share information primarily from Monika Freyman’s recent Ceres report, Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers, February 2014.  If you hunger for maps, graphs and stats, you will feast on this report. The study looks at oil and gas wells that were hydraulically fractured between January 2011 and May 2013 based on records from FracFocus.

Class 2 UI Wells

Class 2 UI Wells

Water scarcity from unconventional drilling is a serious concern. According to Ceres analysis, horizontal gas production is far more water intensive than vertical drilling.  Also, the liquids that return to the surface from unconventional drilling are often disposed of through deep well injection, which takes the water out of the water cycle permanently.   By contrast, water uses are also high for other industries, such as agriculture and electrical generation.  However, most of the water used in agriculture and for cooling in power plants eventually returns to the hydrological cycle.  It makes its way back into local rivers and water sources.

In the timeframe of this study, Ceres reports that:

  • 97 billion gallons of water were used, nearly half of it in Texas, followed by Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado and North Dakota, equivalent to the annual water need  of 55 cities with populations of ~ 5000 each.
  • Over 30 counties used at least one billion gallons of water.
  • Nearly half of the wells hydraulically fractured since 2011 were in regions with high or extremely high water stress, and over 55% were in areas experiencing drought.
  • Over 36% of the 39,294 hydraulically fractured wells in the study overlay regions experiencing groundwater depletion.
  • The largest volume of hydraulic fracturing water, 25 billion gallons, was handled by service provider, Halliburton.

Water withdrawals required for hydraulic fracturing activities have several worrisome impacts. For high stress and drought-impacted regions, these withdrawals now compete with demands for drinking water supplies, as well as other industrial and agricultural needs in many communities.  Often this demand falls upon already depleted and fragile aquifers and groundwater.  Groundwater withdrawals can cause land subsidence and also reduce surface water supplies. (USGS considers ground and surface waters essentially a single source due to their interconnections).  In some areas, rain and snowfall can recharge groundwater supplies in decades, but in other areas this could take centuries or longer.  In other areas, aquifers are confined and considered nonrenewable.   (We will look at these and additional impact in more detail in our next installments.)

Challenges of documenting water consumption and scarcity

Tracking water volumes and locations turns out to be a particularly difficult process.  A combination of factors confuse the numbers, like conflicting data sets or no data,  state records with varying criteria, definitions and categorization for waste, unclear or no records for water volumes used in refracturing wells or for well and pipeline maintenance.

Along with these impediments, “chain of custody” also presents its own obstacles for attempts at water bookkeeping. Unconventional drilling operations, from water sourcing to disposal, are often shared by many companies on many levels.  There are the operators making exploration and production decisions who are ultimately liable for environmental impacts of production. There are the service providers, like Halliburton mentioned above, who oversee field operations and supply chains. (Currently, service providers are not required to report to FracFocus.)  Then, these providers subcontract to specialists such as sand mining operations.  For a full cradle-to-grave assessment of water consumption, you would face a tangle of custody try tracking water consumption through that.

To further complicate the tracking of this industry’s water, FracFocus itself has several limitations. It was launched in April 2011 as a voluntary chemical disclosure registry for companies developing unconventional oil and gas wells. Two years later, eleven states direct or allow well operators and service companies to report their chemical use to this online registry. Although it is primarily intended for chemical disclosure, many studies, like several of those cited in this article, use its database to also track water volumes, simply because it is one of the few centralized sources of drilling water information.  A 2013 Harvard Law School study found serious limitations with FracFocus, citing incomplete and inaccurate disclosures, along with a truly cumbersome search format.  The study states, “the registry does not allow searching across forms – readers are limited to opening one PDF at a time. This prevents site managers, states, and the public from catching many mistakes or failures to report. More broadly, the limited search function sharply limits the utility of having a centralized data cache.”

To further complicate water accounting, state regulations on water withdrawal permits vary widely.  The 2011 study by Resources for the Future uses data from the Energy Information Agency to map permit categories.  Out of 30 states surveyed, 25 required some form of permit, but only half of these require permits for all withdrawals. Regulations also differ in states based on whether the withdrawal is from surface or groundwater.  (Groundwater is generally less regulated and thus at increased risk of depletion or contamination.)  Some states like Kentucky exempt the oil and gas industry from requiring withdrawal permits for both surface and groundwater sources.

Can we treat and recycle oil and gas wastewater to provide potable water?

WV Field Visits 2013Will recycling unconventional drilling wastewater be the solution to fresh water withdrawal impacts?  Currently, it is not the goal of the industry to recycle the wastewater to potable standards, but rather to treat it for future hydraulic fracturing purposes.  If the fluid immediately flowing back from the fractured well (flowback) or rising back to the surface over time (produced water) meets a certain quantity and quality criteria, it can be recycled and reused in future operations.  Recycled wastewater can also be used for certain industrial and agricultural purposes if treated properly and authorized by regulators.  However, if the wastewater is too contaminated (with salts, metals, radioactive materials, etc.), the amount of energy required to treat it, even for future fracturing purposes, can be too costly both in finances and in additional resources consumed.

It is difficult to find any peer reviewed case studies on using recycled wastewater for public drinking purposes, but perhaps an effective technology that is not cost prohibitive for impacted communities is in the works. In an article in the Dallas Business Journal, Brent Halldorson, a Roanoke-based Water Management Company COO, was asked if the treated wastewater was safe to drink.  He answered, “We don’t recommend drinking it. Pure distilled water is actually, if you drink it, it’s not good for you because it will actually absorb minerals out of your body.”

Can we use sources other than freshwater?

How about using municipal wastewater for hydraulic fracturing?  The challenge here is that once the wastewater is used for hydraulic fracturing purposes, we’re back to square one. While return estimates vary widely, some of the injected fluids stay within the formation.  The remaining water that returns to the surface then needs expensive treatment and most likely will be disposed in underground injection wells, thus taken out of the water cycle for community needs, whereas municipal wastewater would normally be treated and returned to rivers and streams.

Could brackish groundwater be the answer? The United States Geological Survey defines brackish groundwater as water that “has a greater dissolved-solids content than occurs in freshwater, but not as much as seawater (35,000 milligrams per liter*).” In some areas, this may be highly preferable to fresh water withdrawals.  However, in high stress water regions, these brackish water reserves are now more likely to be used for drinking water after treatment. The National Research Council predicts these brackish sources could supplement or replace uses of freshwater.  Also, remember the interconnectedness of ground to surface water, this is also true in some regions for aquifers. Therefore, pumping a brackish aquifer can put freshwater aquifers at risk in some geologies.

Contaminated coal mine water – maybe that’s the ticket?  Why not treat and use water from coal mines?  A study out of Duke University demonstrated in a lab setting that coal mine water may be useful in removing salts like barium and radioactive radium from wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing. However, there are still a couple of impediments to its use.  Mine water quality and constituents vary and may be too contaminated and acidic, rendering it still too expensive to treat for fracturing needs. Also, liability issues may bring financial risks to anyone handling the mine water.  In Pennsylvania, it’s called the “perpetual treatment liability” and it’s been imposed multiple times by DEP under the Clean Streams Law. Drillers worry that this law sets them up somewhere down the road, so that courts could hold them liable for cleaning up a particular stream contaminated by acid mine water that they did not pollute.

More to come on hydraulic fracturing and water scarcity

Although this article touches upon some of the issues presented by unconventional drilling’s demands on water sources, most water impacts are understood and experienced most intensely on the local and regional level.   The next installments will look at water use and loss in specific states, regions and watersheds and shine a light on areas already experiencing significant water demands from hydraulic fracturing.  In addition, we will look at some of the recommendations and solutions focused on protecting our precious water resources.

Over 1.1 Million Active Oil and Gas Wells in the US

Many people ask us how many wells have been hydraulically fractured in the United States.  It is an excellent question, but not one that is easily answered; most states don’t release data on well stimulation activities.  Also, since the data are released by state regulatory agencies, it is necessary to obtain data from each state that has oil and gas data to even begin the conversation.  We’ve finally had a chance to complete that task, and have been able to aggregate the following totals:

Oil and gas summary data of drilled wells in the United States.

Oil and gas summary data of drilled wells in the United States.

 

While data on hydraulically fractured wells is rarely made available, the slant of the wells are often made accessible.  The well types are as follows:

  • Directional:  Directional wells are those where the top and the bottom of the holes do not line up vertically.  In some cases, the deviation is fairly slight.  These are also known as deviated or slant wells.
  • Horizontal:  Horizontal wells are directional wells, where the well bore makes something of an “L” shape.  States may have their own definition for horizontal wells.  In Alaska, these wells are defined as those deviating at least 80° from vertical.  Currently, operators are able to drill horizontally for several miles.
  • Directional or Horizontal:  These wells are known to be directional, but whether they are classified as horizontal or not could not be determined from the available data.  In many cases, the directionality was determined by the presence of directional sidetrack codes in the well’s API number.
  • Vertical:  Wells in which the top hole and bottom hole locations are in alignment.  States may have differing tolerances for what constitutes a vertical well, as opposed to directional.
  • Hydraulically Fractured:  As each state releases data differently, it wasn’t always possible to get consistent data.  These wells are known to be hydraulically fractured, but the slant of the well is unknown.
  • Not Fractured:  These wells have not been hydraulically fractured, and the slant of the well is unknown.
  • Unknown:  Nothing is known about the slant, stimulation, or target formation of the well in question.
  • Unknown (Shale Formation):  Nothing is known about the slant or stimulation of the wells in question; however, it is known that the target formation is a major shale play.  Therefore, it is probable that the well has been hydraulically fractured, with a strong possibility of being drilled horizontally.

Wells that have been hydraulically fractured might appear in any of the eight categories, with the obvious exception of “Not Fractured.”  Categories that are very likely to be fractured include, “Horizontal”, “Hydraulically Fractured”, and “Unknown (Shale Formation),” the total of which is about 32,000 wells.  However, that number doesn’t include any wells from Texas or Colorado, where we know thousands wells have been drilled into major shale formations, but the data had to be placed into categories that were more vague.

Oil and gas wells in the United States, as of February 2014. Location data were not available for Maryland (n=104), North Carolina (n=2), and Texas (n=303,909).  To access the legend and other map tools, click the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner.

The standard that we attempted to reach for all of the well totals was for wells that have been drilled but have not yet been plugged, which is a broad spectrum of the well’s life-cycle.  In some cases, decisions had to be made in terms of which wells to include, due to imperfect metadata.

No location data were available for Maryland, North Carolina, or Texas.  The first two have very few wells, and officials in Maryland said that they expect to have the data available within about a month.  Texas location data is available for purchase, however such data cannot be redistributed, so it was not included on the map.

It should not be assumed that all of the wells that are shown in  the map above the shale plays and shale basin layers are actually drilled into shale.  In many cases, however, shale is considered a source rock, where hydrocarbons are developed, before the oil and gas products migrate upward into shallower, more conventional formations.

The raw data oil and gas data is available for download on our site in shapefile format.

 

Songbird Nurseries of Pennsylvania

Guest Blog by Paul T. Zeph, Director of Conservation for Audubon Pennsylvania

Millions of small, beautiful, colorful songbirds that live in the tropics for most of the year venture north each spring to Pennsylvania to nest in our deep, quiet forests—forests that are now in danger of being fracked apart into industrial zones of natural gas extraction.

Pennsylvania’s forests provide nesting habitat for 17% of the world’s Scarlet Tanagers. Photo courtesy of the PA Gaming Commission.

Pennsylvania’s forests provide nesting habitat for 17% of the world’s Scarlet Tanagers. Photo by Jake Dingel, via the PA Game Commission.

The names of these birds are often described by their vibrant colors:  Black-throated Blue Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Cerulean Warbler, or Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Here, in the deep remnants of Penn’s Woods, they find an abundance of caterpillars and other insects that are critical protein for raising baby birds. Once the young are fledged and finding food on their own, the parents and juveniles head back south in early fall to their “non-breeding” habitat, which is more accurately called the Neotropics; that is, the New World tropics of the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Most of these Neotropical migrants cannot nest successfully in small woodlots or fragmented forests, and depend upon large, undisturbed tracts of woodland that we call “core” forests.  These are forests that are at least 300 feet from a permanent edge – such as a road, utility corridor, or housing development.  Pennsylvania still has some very large forest blocks, primarily in the northern tier of the state, that serve as bird “nurseries”—places where the nest density is high and many species are successfully fledging young.

A recently-completed Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas is undergoing analysis by many researchers, and the data is helping us to identify the “best of the best” places in the state needed to sustain populations of our Neotropical visitors, for which we have a North American responsibility.  Not surprisingly, these quiet, large blocks of forest are also favorite places for humans to use for passive recreation, relaxation, and spiritual renewal.  If you want a quiet, peaceful place to escape the modern world for a weekend, look for places frequented in June by Blackburnian Warblers or Blue-headed Vireos.


Unconventional drilling and key forest songbird habitat in Pennsylvania. To access the legend, layer descriptions, and other tools, click on the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner of the map.

Since many populations of our Neotropical species have been dramatically declining over the past 50 years, we need to protect as much nesting habitat as possible.  In 100 years, we will probably see many species disappear from Pennsylvania altogether due to fragmentation and climate change.  Our northern forest blocks may be a last refuge for a number of bird and other animal species that cannot survive in our sprawling suburbs or the ecological changes that will come with a warming planet.

Extensive gas infrastructure in forested Pennsylvania land. Photo by Pete Stern, 2013.

Extensive gas infrastructure in forested Pennsylvania land. Photo by Pete Stern, 2013.

Fracking is a heavily industrialized activity that not only causes short-term fragmentation, noise, and ecological disruption, but can lead to long-term ecological collapse of healthy, intact forest blocks.  Birds are only one of many types of animals that are impacted by the vast array of fracking infrastructure that is becoming all-too-common in our state’s quiet and shady bird nurseries, trout streams, and recreation areas:  widened roads letting in sunlight and nest predators; long, wide pipelines creating miles of permanent edge; thousands of acres of forest floor buried under compacted gravel pads; rain events carrying road and well pad gravel into sensitive headwater streams, burying aquatic life.

We have precious few public lands left in Pennsylvania that have not been leased for mineral extraction.  We must do all that we can to prevent leasing of lands where the state owns the mineral rights; and, where the rights are severed and owned by another, we must find compromises and solutions that keep as much of the forest intact as possible.

The Muskingum Watershed and Utica Shale Water Demands

Ohio Utica Well Water Usage

Figure 1. Ohio Utica well water usage across 306 wells (Gallons Per Well)

How much freshwater has the unconventional drilling industry used to-date?

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Given that Ohio’s largest conservancy district, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy (MWCD), is considering the sale of large stocks of freshwater and deep mineral rights to the Utica Shale drilling industry, we thought it would be helpful to take a “back of the envelope” first look at how much freshwater the gas industry has already used within the basin and how much it might use given current permitting trends.

Background

But first a little background… The MWCD is an 18 county political body that encompasses the Muskingum River basin in its entirety – roughly 19% of the state’s landmass (Figure 1). The Muskingum River Watershed (MRW), Ohio’s “largest wholly contained watershed,” contains nearly 19% of OH’s wetlands and 28% of the state’s lakes and reservoirs (Table 1).

Table 1. The number, minimum/maximum size, total area, and mean (±) size of wetlands, lakes, and reservoirs in the Muskingum River Watershed (MRW)

#

Min

Max

Sum

Mean

±

Wetlands (acres)

MRW

25,529

0.014

507

98,924

3.87

12.01

Ohio River

134,736

6.9*10-5

1,500

507,312

3.77

13.94

MRW as % of Ohio

18.9

202.9

33.8

19.5

102.7

86.2

Lakes & Reservoirs (miles2)

MRW

25

0.35

5.5

44.6

1.78

1.5

Ohio River

91

0.15

5,014

5,545

61

523

MRW as % of Ohio

27.5

233.3

0.1

0.8

2.9

0.3

The sustainability of the watershed’s freshwater stocks and flows is of concern to many, given climate trends and the fact that the MWCD, according to their website, is “…awaiting results from a U.S. Geological Survey analysis of water availability at several other reservoirs before deciding whether to approve a growing number of requests for water by other drilling companies.”

Water Use Trend

Our methodology examined rainfall, evapotranspiration, and usage of water by forests, crops, and humans. “When we account for all of these usages, as well as unquantified usages like watershed discharge and soil holding capacity, the remainder is what I will call available water.”

According to our analysis of 306 drilling, drilled, or producing OH Utica gas wells, the hydraulic fracturing process requires on average 4.6-4.8 million gallons of water per well(2). This is equal to 2.8-2.9 billion gallons of water to-date for the watershed’s 613 wells or 4.5-4.7 billion gallons across the state’s currently permitted 985 wells (Figure 1).

After looking at water use from this industry, the following water usage scenarios emerge:

  1. For just Muskingum Watershed gas wells – water use is equivalent to 2.47% of the watershed’s “available water” assuming a low discharge scenario, 2.50% for a medium discharge scenario, and 2.56% for a high discharge scenario.
  2. For all Utica gas wells in Ohio – water use is equivalent to 3.97% of the watershed’s “available water” assuming a low discharge scenario, 4.02% for a medium discharge scenario, and 4.11% for a high discharge scenario.
Put another way, these volumes equate to 4.44 and 7.14% of Muskingum Watershed residences’ total annual water usage.

A year from now – assuming two Utica permitting trajectories(3) – our calculations resulted in the following estimates:

(Note: The below projections assume the entirety of Ohio Utica wells permitted to date or 985 permits and an increase in Utica Well water usage of 220,329 gallons per quarter(4).)

  1. 25 permits per month for the next 12 months – equivalent to 5.40, 5.47, or 5.59% of the watershed’s “available water” by November 2014 when added to the currently utilized water detailed in part 1 above. This will be equivalent to 9.70% of human water usage in Ohio.
  2. 51 permits per month for the next 12 months – equivalent to 6.90, 7.00, or 7.14% of the watershed’s “available water”. This will equal 12.40% of human annual water usage in the watershed.

Ohio vs. Other States

Total horizontal drilling water usage across 59 Counties in 6 US states.

Figure 2. Total horizontal drilling water usage across 59 Counties in 6 US states (1*105 m3)

To put OH into perspective, we decided to compare the above water usage across 19 OH counties to identical data for 40 counties in 5 other states. In doing so we found that each county’s horizontal well stock has used an average of 2.82*105 m3 of water to date or 3,912 swimming pools and 119 golf course acres worth of irrigation, with the latter equivalent to 1.53 US golf courses. Six of OH’s counties come in over this average and the remaining thirteen below. Meanwhile, 10 of neighboring West Virginia’s 19 counties exceeded 2.79*105 m3 of water. OH and WV horizontal well water usage averaged across counties exceeds the Six State*Fifty-Nine County continuum average by 0.13 and 1.48*105 m3 of water, while the remaining four states fall short of the average by 2.02*105 m3 (Figure 2).

Total water usage across the 59 counties turns out to be a robust predictor of how the industry’s water needs relate to general public water usage accounting for 78.4% of the latter (Figure 3). However, this relationship isn’t as straightforward as one might expect – requiring a statistical technique called log transformation which is generally applied by statisticians to data that is “highly skewed…This can be valuable both for making patterns in the data more interpretable and for helping to meet the assumptions of inferential statistics.” Due to the “skewness” of this data set, the average and median industry water usage as a percent of the general public is 1.40% and 11.83%, respectively.

Horizontal drilling water Vs General Public's Water Requirements across 59 Counties in 6 US states.

Figure 3. Total horizontal drilling water usage across 59 Counties in 6 US states relative to the general public’s water requirements (1*105 m3)

OH Inter-County Utica Water Usage By The Numbers

Hydraulic Fracturing Industry Yearly Water Usage

  • Per well – 5.29 million gallons (Note: This is increasing by 149-220K gallons per quarter)
  • Total water usage is increasing by 36.993 million gallons per quarter, which means that within 5-6 years the industry will be using more than 1.1 billion gallons of freshwater per year
  • Per Square Mile – 10,355 gallons
  • Per Capita – 138 gallons Per Well Per Person; 2,612 gallons Per Person
  • Per Household – 358 gallons Per Well Per Household; 6,674 gallons Per Household
  • Per Well Foot – 821 gallons
  • Water Costs Per Well – $21,494 (Per capita resident water costs are $107.86 per year)
  • Water Usage as a % of Total Well development and production costs – 4.41%
  • The Ratio of Water as a % of Total Materials Used Per Well To Water Cost Per well – 27.25

Resident-to-Industry Ratios

  • a. Per Capita Resident Water Usage Per Year as % of Per Well Usage – 0.87%
  • b. Per Capita Water Cost Per Year as % of Utica Well Water Cost – 10.05%
  • Ratio of (b) to (a) – 11.86

References

[1] “The Muskingum River Watershed is comprised of three major subwatersheds – the Tuscarawas River Watershed in the northeastern, the Walhonding River Watershed in the northwest and the Lower Muskingum Watershed in the south. The Tuscarawas and Walhonding rivers flow in a southern direction where they intersect at Coshocton, forming the Muskingum River.” Learn more

[2] The median per well volumes required in Oklahoma range from 3.0 million gallons for the state in totol to 4.2 million gallons for the state’s Woodford Shale horizontal wells according to a study by Kyle Murray at the University of Oklahoma.

[3] The two trajectories assume 25 and 51 permitted wells per month based on the entirety of Ohio’s Utica permitting period back to September, 2010 and the current 2013 year-to-date average, respectively.

[4] This number increases to 339,812 gallons per quarter if we remove Q3-2013 where our data is admittedly incomplete relative to the previous eight quarters. We did not include Q3-2010 or Q1 and Q2-20111 in our extrapolation because we only have data for 1, 2, and 2 wells, respectively.

[5] Mekonnen, M M, & Hoekstra, A Y. (2010). The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products Value of Water (Vol. 47). New York, NY: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE).

[6] Sanford, W E, & Selnick, D L. (2013). Estimation of evapotranspiration across the conterminous United States using a regression with climate and land-cover data. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 49(1), 217-230.

Texas Drought Conditions and Water Availability

By Thomas DiPaolo, GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance –

For the last three years, Texas has been experiencing a drought so severe that it has gained media attention around the world; the recurring theme from each media report is that the water use of the oil and natural gas industry is sucking up so much water from the ground that towns like Barnhart are seeing their taps run dry.


To view the fullscreen version of this map, including details about each layer, click here.

Surface Water

Water data for Texas, owned and operated by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), defines “reservoir storage” as the total volume of water contained within a reservoir, while “conservation storage” is specifically the volume of water that can be accessed and moved out of the reservoir. For example, the Twin Buttes Reservoir currently has 2,095 acre-feet of water in its reservoir storage, but because it cannot be removed from the reservoir, in terms of conservation storage it is considered “empty.” Twin Buttes is not the only reservoir in this position; Electra Lake, Meredith Lake, and White River Lake are also empty, and Electra Lake has no water at all in its reservoir storage. The average conservation storage of reservoirs statewide is 168,704.64 acre-feet. Ninety-two reservoirs (including the aforementioned) have less than that amount, while six reservoirs have conservation storages in excess of 1 million acre-feet. For reference, a TWDB report from last year found that in 2011 statewide fracking operations used a combined total of 81,500 acre-feet of water, over 26.5 billion gallons. That is almost enough to consume the conservation storage of the ten smallest reservoirs in the state.

The other measure for comparing water quantity is “fullness percentage,” a ratio between a reservoir’s current conservation storage and the maximum volume of water it can hold without flooding, or maximum conservation storage. Any reservoir with no conservation storage, therefore, has a fullness of 0%, while overflowing reservoirs are only 100% full. This means that, in contrast to the four reservoirs with 0% fullness, four other reservoirs have complete fullness. Monticello Reservoir, Mountain Creek Lake, and Squaw Creek Reservoir are all in excess of their conservation storages, but Houston Lake is flooding by the greatest amount, with reservoir storage of 139,409 acre-feet and conservation storage of 128,054 acre-feet. The average reservoir is  56.01% full as of this writing, but 44 of 115 reservoirs have a lower proportion of fullness. The problem here isn’t that every reservoir is under threat: it’s that those reservoirs which are threatened are running on empty.

Water Restrictions

Fig1The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, publishes a list of drought-affected public water systems and their restrictions, classifying them by “stage” and “priority” (Figure 1). Stage refers to the expected duration of the existing water supply, while priority reflects the degree to which residents’ water usage is being restricted. This means water systems with no immediate threat of their supplies expiring may be applying extreme restrictions to sustain that supply. Water systems in the highest stage of “Emergency” have at most 45 days before their water supplies are exhausted; a priority of “Severe” means the water system has forbidden all outdoor water usage and may limit individual residents’ usage if they believe it’s necessary. At the time of this writing, 442 water systems have instituted voluntary restrictions on water usage, but 44 systems have a Severe priority, and five of those are in a stage of Emergency.

Of those systems, only the White River Municipal Water District appears in the map above within the data layer of public water systems offered by the TCEQ, and it lies within 20 miles of eight different fracking wells1. According to FracFocus.org, these eight wells consumed a combined volume of almost 600,000 gallons of water, or 1.8 acre-feet, when they were first fractured. While that amount may sound low, FracFocus shows 1,557 fracking wells within the state of Texas, and White River is located about 100 miles from the major oil fields of west Texas, where individual wells commonly consumed millions of gallons of water. For eight wells combined, 600,000 gallons is at the bottom of the scale.

FracFocus also notes that these figures do not take into account the amount of fresh water used in drilling. As freshwater becomes scarcer, hydraulic fracturing operations are turning to brackish water, which contains salt or other minerals, and water recycled from previous gas wells: the TWDB estimated that 17,000 of the 81,500 acre-feet of water used in 2011 was either brackish or recycled, and water recycling specifically is on the rise ever since the Texas legislature removed the need to seek permits before recycling water on leased land. FTS International reports that some of its Texas wells have completely switched over to recycled water.

It remains to be seen how soon efforts like this will bring relief to towns like Barnhart.


Footnotes

1. The eight wells in question are Bryant B-1045, etal #4576; Bryant B-1045, etal #4578; Flores, etal #182; Rankin #etal 161; Rankin, etal #172; Wheeler-1046, #4666; Wheeler-1046, #4678; and Williams, etal #4570. Reports on all of them can be found on FracFocus by searching for Crosby County, Texas.

Registered Water Withdrawals in New York State

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

As of April 1, 2013, new regulations 6 NYCRR Parts 601 and 621 in New York State have been in effect that require users of large quantities of water to apply for withdrawal permits. The largest users of water—those with withdrawals of more than 100 million gallons per day—are the first group required to apply. The permit system then adds users on a yearly basis, targeting systems with decreasingly need. In 2014, the target group is users of 10-100 million gallons/day; in 2015, it is 2-10 million gallons/day, and so on. The full schedule is in Table 1, below. There are no fees associated with this permitting process.

In order to assess the geographic impacts of these varying uses, attorney Rachel Treichler submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. FracTracker Alliance assisted her in this effort by visualizing the data. Treichler believes that the new regulations make it virtually impossible for DEC to balance competing needs between large and small users.

In this interactive map, larger dots signify larger withdrawal. Click on each dot in the map to get more information.

Yellow: 0.0001-0.5 million gal/day
Light green: 0.5001-2 million gal/day
Dark green: 2.001-10 million gal/day
Medium blue: 10.001-100 million gal/day
Dark blue: >100 million gal/day

Until the adoption of these permitting requirements, water withdrawals in New York were governed by riparian rights determined by case law. Riparian rights are correlative–they fluctuate depending on the needs of other users and the amount of water available. Although the new regulations affirm that riparian rights will not be affected by the granting of permits, there is concern that users granted permits for stated amounts of water usage may be reluctant to adjust to the needs of other users in times of water scarcity. In New York State, both the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) have strong regulatory authority over withdrawals, and the new New York regulations provide that withdrawals subject to permitting by these commissions are exempt from the permitting requirements of the regulations. Comparable commissions with authority to regulate water withdrawals do not exist in the Great Lakes watershed, which includes the Finger Lakes Region, or in the other watersheds in the state, and in these watersheds, the permitting requirements of the regulations are the only generally-applicable water permitting requirements.

Currently, New York State has an abundance of water—there is certainly enough to go around to meet domestic and commercial uses. However, with climate change, continued population growth, and the potential for an uptick in hydrofracking throughout the Marcellus and Utica Shale region, the possibility for New York State being asked to sell or export our water increases considerably.

Under the current system, even by 2017, withdrawal permits will not be required for daily use under 100,000 gallons. While cumbersome, it would not be difficult for a typical hydrofracked site to sidestep any withdrawal permitting process if the water were removed over the course of several days by several different private haulers, particularly if the water were hauled any distance. It is conceivable that the gas drilling industry could readily exploit this loophole in the regulations.

Table 1. Dates by which Application for Initial Permit Must Be Completed

June 1, 2013 Systems that withdraw or are designed to withdraw a volume of 100 million gallons per day (mgd) or more
Feb. 15, 2014 Systems that withdraw or are designed to withdraw a volume equal to or greater than 10 mgd but less than 100 mgd
Feb. 15, 2015 Systems that withdraw or are designed to withdraw a volume equal to or greater than 2 mgd but less than 10 mgd
Feb. 15, 2016 Systems that withdraw or are designed to withdraw a volume equal to or greater than 0.5 mgd but less than 2 mgd
Feb. 15, 2017 Systems that withdraw or are designed to withdraw a volume equal to or greater than 0.1 but less than 0.5 mgd

 

Table 2. Water Users with Maximum Usage over 100 MGD

Facility Name Town/City County Average Units Max. Units
St. Lawrence/ FDR Power Project Massena St.Lawrence 79278.00 MGD 108686.00 MGD
Niagara Power Project Lewiston Niagara 47463.00 MGD 62164.00 MGD
Indian Point 2&3 LLCs Cortlandt Westchester 2024.00 MGD 2489.00 MGD
New York City DEP Neversink Sullivan 1078.00 MGD 1418.00 MGD
James A. Fitzpatrick Nuclear Power Plant Scriba Oswego 543.00 MGD 596.00 MGD
Ravenswood Generating Station Queens Queens 512.90 MGD 1390.00 MGD
Arthur Kill Generating Station Richmond Richmond 480.00 MGD 712.80 MGD
Astoria Generating Station Queens Queens 455.60 MGD 723.70 MGD
RE Ginna Nuclear Power Plant Ontario Wayne 427.00 MGD 511.00 MGD
Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station Scriba Oswego 401.10 MGD 457.10 MGD
Roseton Generating Station Newburgh Orange 340.54 MGD 794.40 MGD
Dunkirk Generating Station Dunkirk Chautauqua 304.00 MGD
Danskammer Generating Newburgh Orange 278.80 MGD 455.04 MGD
East River Generating Station New York New York 264.10 MGD 371.80 MGD
AES Somerset Somerset Niagara 239.00 MGD 274.00 MGD
AES Cayuga Lansing Tompkins 214.12 MGD 243.36 MGD
Huntley Generating Station Tonawanda Erie 200.00 MGD 406.00 MGD
Oswego Harbor Power Oswego Oswego 167.70 MGD 364.21 MGD
Genon Bowline Haverstraw Rockland 74.94 MGD 989.29 MGD
Monroe County Water Authority-Shoremont Greece Monroe 55.40 MGD 109.00 MGD

 

 Special thanks to Rachel Treichler for her insights and extensive background knowledge on this topic.

Cornell study assessed climate change impact of natural gas drilling

Archived

This page has been archived. It is provided here for historical purposes.

We at the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities would like to congratulate and recognize the incredible efforts of our colleagues at Cornell University for their recent research study published in Climate Change Letters, entitled “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations.” Led by Dr. Robert Howarth, the study sought to determine the effect that natural gas drilling in shale formations has on the atmosphere over a 20-year period.*

Methane gas, the major component of natural gas, has been promoted by some entities as a greener energy alternative than the use of coal because it burns cleaner. Results of this recent Cornell study, however, indicate that the methane emissions that result from the natural gas industry may result in a greater greenhouse gas footprint than other forms of energy extraction.  This is partially due to the fact that methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

From a researcher’s perspective, accurate and up-to-date data regarding the amount of methane gas that escapes during the life cycle of natural gas drilling is difficult to access – if it exists at all. To better-understand how natural gas drilling in shale formations will affect public health and the environment, especially as this industry develops, we must continue to conduct peer-reviewed research like the most recent Cornell study. Full Report

* A criticism of this study has been the shorter, 20-year time span they used to analyze the data. This approach was taken because methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.