Water

Unconventional oil and gas development requires extraordinary amounts of water during the extraction process. In 2019, fracking operators used an average of 14 million gallons of water per well, with the maximum amount reaching 39 million gallons for a single well. After being pumped underground to “frack” oil and gas wells, water is called “flowback,” and includes naturally occurring underground brine water– which contains dangerous levels of radiation, heavy metals, and other contaminants — mixed with the fracking chemical-laden fresh water that has been pumped into the well. The chemicals used in the fracking process are known carcinogens, while others remain entirely secret, even to the personnel in the field who are employed to use the additives. 

Flowback is disposed of by injection into underground wells, in water treatment plants, or in open air pits. Each of these disposal methods comes with enormous risks, such as contamination of drinking water sources, fresh water contamination, inducing seismic activity in the case of underground injection, human exposure to radioactivity, and increased traffic needed to transport produced water. Sometimes produced water is treated to remove some of the fracking chemicals and reused in the fracking process, but this accounts for only a portion of fracking water given that fresh water is cheaper to procure.

Shockingly, some states allow for fracking wastewater to be treated and used for agricultural purposes, for road spreading, or for commercial sale in products such as pool salts, increasing exposure pathways to toxic chemicals.

Explore these issues in depth in the FracTracker articles and maps below.

FracTracker Water Articles

EPA

Impacts of 2020 Colonial Pipeline Rupture Continue to Grow

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In August 2020, the Colonial Pipeline ruptured, spilling an estimated 1.2 million gallons of gasoline—18 times more than originally reported.
Jared Durelle

Gas Storage Plan vs. Indigenous Rights in Nova Scotia

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The Mi’kmaq First Nations people are facing threats to their lands and water due to plans in Nova Scotia proposed by AltaGas.

Risky Byhalia Connection Pipeline Threatens Tennessee & Mississippi Health, Water Supply

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The proposed Byhalia Connection pipeline project is situated in a particularly problematic intersection where environmental justice, hydrology, geology, and risks to human and environmental health intersect.
Los Angeles, California skyline

California Oil & Gas Setbacks Recommendations Memo

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The purpose of this memo is to recommend guidelines to CalGEM for evaluating the economic value of the social benefits and costs to people and the environment in requiring a 2,500 foot setback for oil and gas drilling (OGD) activities.
Pipeline Map

Mariner East 2 Causes Dozens of Spills Since Lockdown Began, Over 300 in Total

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FracTracker Alliance has released a new map of drilling fluid…
Flaring at a natural gas compressor station in Butler County, OhioTed Auch, FracTracker Alliance
Mapping gathering lines in OH and WV feature

Mapping Gathering Lines in Ohio and West Virginia

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As a spring 2020 intern with FracTracker, my work mostly involved…
Oil & Gas waste tank operated by SWEPI and Enervest at the Hayes pad, Otsego County, Michigan May 21st, 2016

The North Dakota Shale Viewer Reimagined: Mapping the Water and Waste Impact

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We updated the FracTracker North Dakota Shale Viewer with current…
FracTracker Falcon Pipeline spills map
Bushkill Falls PA

Fracking Water Use in Pennsylvania Increases Dramatically

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Unconventional wells in Pennsylvania were always resource-intensive,…

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