An Investor Guide to Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress


Key Findings

  • 57% of the 109,665 wells that were hydraulically fractured in the past five years were located in regions with high or extremely high water stress, including basins in Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and California.
  • A total of 358.4 billion gallons of water was used for hydraulic fracturing, equivalent to the annual water needs of 200 mid-sized cities. [1]
  • While overall water use peaked in 2014, average water use per well doubled from 2.6 million gallons per well in 2011 to 5.3 million gallons per well in 2015, most likely due to longer laterals used to increase contact area with the shale formation.
  • The Eagle Ford play is of particular concern. Annual water use rose from 5 billion gallons in 2011 to 26 billion in 2014, while average water use (per well) grew from 4 million gallons to over 7 million in 2014.  The region is also experiencing high water stress, drought and declining groundwater supplies, along with growing population pressures.
  • Weld County, Colorado saw the highest number of wells drilled (almost 7000 wells) and the largest amount of water used for fracking (more than 16 billion gallons) of any county in the United States.
  • Local communities are at the front lines of dealing with the impact from water demands for fracking activities. For example, annual water use for fracking in Weld County, Colorado represents 50 percent of all domestic water use, and in seven of the top 10 counties, annual water use for hydraulic fracturing reached more than 100% of each county’s domestic water use
  • Nine of the top 10 companies analyzed operated 70 percent or more of their wells in regions with medium or higher water stress.
  • The large volumes of wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing that must be managed at the surface and ultimately disposed of in underground deep well injection sites are a significant and growing issue at the local level. This wastewater has been linked to surface and groundwater contamination events, as well as to earthquakes.

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