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

The Falcon: Water Crossings & Hazards

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Part of the Falcon Public EIA Project In this section of the…

The Falcon: High Consequence Areas & Potential Impact Zones

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Part of the Falcon Public EIA Project In this segment of the…
A Hazy Future Report Cover

A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045

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Report Calculates Impacts from PA’s Planned Natural Gas Infrastructure FracTracker…
Map of the Standing Rock protest - Oil is flowing through the DAPL, but the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Tribe have challenged the permit and are petitioning for the release of Chase Iron Eyes

An Ongoing Fight at Standing Rock

We live in a complex environment of local, regional, national,…
Sandhill Crane

Giving Voice to the Sandhill Cranes: Place-based Arguments against Keystone XL

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By Wrexie Bardaglio, guest commentator When we hear his call,…
JOSHUA DOUBEK / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Groundwater risks in Colorado due to Safe Drinking Water Act exemptions

Oil and gas operators are polluting groundwater in Colorado,…
Northeast Ohio Class II injection wells taken via FracTracker's mobile app, May 2015

What are aquifer exemptions? Permitted exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act

Liquid Waste Disposal Drilling for oil and gas produces both…
Brine or water roadspreading in WV

Does roadspreading of brine equate to oil and gas waste dumping?

The application of liquid oil and gas waste from conventional…
Water supplies article

Risks to Water Supplies in PA’s Susquehanna Basin

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In this series of articles on the Susquehanna River Basin, FracTracker…
Wayne National Forest map and drilling

Wayne National Forest Could Be Deforested – Again

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Guest article by Becca Pollard Eighty years ago, Southeastern…
Ethanol and fracking

North American Ethanol’s Land, Water, Nutrient, and Waste Impact

Corn Ethanol and Fracking - Similarities Abound Even though…
Susquehanna River Basin map article #2

Violations and Monitoring in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River Basin

The Susquehanna River is a 444-mile long waterway extending from…

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