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

Desalination: The Chemical Industry’s Demand for Water in Texas

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Desalination facilities proposed by the petrochemical industry in Texas could significantly impact fragile Gulf Coast ecosystems.

Take Action in Support of No New Leases

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The federal government is accepting comments on a 5-Year Offshore Oil and Gas Lease Program. We need your voice to join in solidarity with communities in the Gulf and the Arctic and call for no new leases.
Painting of Dimock

Victoria’s Story

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The story of Victoria Switzer, a Dimock resident who is leading the charge to protect Burdick Creek and Dimock from toxic fracking waste.

Petrochemical Toxics in the Ohio River Watershed

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A look at the petrochemical industry’s footprint in the Ohio River Watershed and how much toxic pollution is discharged into waterways.

US Army Corps Muskingum Watershed Plan ignores local concerns of oil and gas effects

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Local stakeholders' concerns about the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas in the Muskingum Watershed of Ohio have been minimized or excluded by the US Army Corps' environmental assessment.

Oil and gas companies use a lot of water to extract oil in drought-stricken California

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FracTracker details the disproportionate amounts of water used by the oil and gas industry in CA and recommends that Gov. Newsom take action.

Southeastern Texas Petrochemical Industry Needs 318 Billion Gallons of Water, but the US EPA Says Not So Fast

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The US EPA is moving to turn off the tap to Texas’ petrochemical operators that are demanding exorbitant water quantities where there are none.
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.
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