The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Real Fracking Numbers

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted August 30, 2012

The use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to safely and responsibly develop energy from shale has delivered on its promise of jobs and economic growth for communities across the nation.  And the industry is committed to working with communities to address the challenges that come with any economic activity. 

One such issue is water use, something that the industry takes very seriously, working closely with local, state and regional officials to get it right.  When it comes to drought, the most important aspect regarding water use is not necessarily how much is used in the world or the nation, but rather how much is used where.  And we have some answers there:

  • In the Barnett Shale water provided to oil and natural gas producers was 0.54% of 2011 total water use in Texas. Completion of a Barnett well  requires as much water as a golf course uses in 20 days, or that is used on a mere six acres of corn in a growing season.
  • 2010 estimates from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission show hydraulic fracturing annually using 0.08% of water supplied in Colorado, about 1/1000th the water required each year for agribusiness in the state, and only 1 ½ percent of the water required by the state’s recreation industry alone.
  • And for perhaps the best comparison to New York we can look at nearby Pennsylvania, where natural gas activity has grown rapidly and see that in Pennsylvania: “Marcellus gas drilling uses 1.9 million gallons or about 0.2% of all the daily water withdrawn.”  Compare to other industrial users at 770 million gallons a day or aquaculture at 524 million gallons a day, just those two alone are 680 times higher than the water required for Marcellus drilling operations.

I bring up New York because, as the state looks at embracing the economic opportunity afforded by the safe and responsible production of natural gas, opponents of development are getting a little, well, hysterical – under both definitions of the word as they couple uncontrollable outbursts of irrationality with wildly funny inaccuracies about hydraulic fracturing.

It started back in June when Josh Fox released a new film falsely claiming, among other things, that fracking causes an increase in breast cancer rates.  The AP went to town on that one in an article titled “Some Fracking Critics Using Bad Science,” from the AP:

Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place - and nowhere else in the state. The claim is used… by Josh Fox, the director of "Gasland," a film that criticizes the industry. Fox, who lives in Brooklyn, has a new short film called "The Sky is Pink."

"But researchers haven't seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area," said Simon Craddock Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.  David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said "researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred. And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either… Fox responded to questions by citing a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that doesn't support his claim, and a newspaper story that Risser said is "not based on a careful statistical analysis of the data."

Then last week we saw Food and Water Watch claim:

6 percent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wells fail immediately, and 50 percent—yes, that’s half—fail over 30 years

A claim based on a source document that looks at cement casings but a) doesn’t show well failures; and b) is about offshore drilling, not onshore hydraulic fracturing.  Comprehensive onshore studies found that over 25 years in Ohio there was a failure rate of 0.03% and over 15 years in Texas the failure rate was 0.01%.  And yet with real numbers available Sean Lennon this past Monday chose to go with the disinformation, because really that is all you have when reality fails your position.

But even presenting numbers as something they are not is perhaps better than Food and Water Watch’s (F&WW) latest, published in the Huffington Post on Tuesday which claims:

"…the oil and gas industry is misusing our water supplies at a time when we face increasing droughts that are also associated with climate change. I recently attended an industry conference…Some big numbers about the ongoing use of water resources were exposed at this corporate shindig. An official from Aquatech BV said that 2.4 trillion gallons of produced water (i.e. polluted water) are generated from oil and gas operations in the U.S. each day…"

Whoa, really?  2.4 trillion gallons a day?  That doesn’t really sound right.  Let’s do some Googling.  First we find that the U.S. Geologic Survey does water use reports every five years.  The last one released was in 2009 and covered the year 2005.  It found:

“Estimates of water use in the United States indicate that about 410 billion gallons per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn in 2005 for all categories summarized in this report.”

Now, domestic production from oil and natural gas has been on the rise over the last seven years, but it really is hard to imagine that we are kicking out five times more produced water a day than the entire country withdrew in 2005. So immediately Food and Water Watch’s numbers get a red flag.  Digging deeper into the report we see that the entire Mining category, which contains oil and natural gas as well as a host of other industries, withdrew 4.02 Bgal/d – or 597 times less than F&WW’s claim.

But again, that was in 2005, how about something more recent, back to the Google.  Oh, here’s one, a 2009 document from the Department of Energy’s Oil and Natural Gas Water Resources Program, let’s have a look:

"Water management plays a major role in oil and gas operations. Water is injected into many oil fields to improve production, and often water from an oil- or gas-bearing formation flows to the surface during production. This water, called produced water, is the largest volume by-product or waste stream associated with oil and gas exploration and production (E&P). About 20 billion bbl (barrels; 1 bbl = 42 U.S. gallons) of produced water are generated each year in the United States from nearly a million wells. Ensuring that this water is properly managed and does not adversely affect the environment is a key concern for oil and gas producers."

So 840 billion gallons a year of produced water, or about a third of what F&WW claims we generate every day.  To be generous I will assume in the post they meant billion instead of trillion and that gets them in the ballpark, but not yet playing the right game. 

Non-well failures, non-breast cancer cases, and non-problems with water use are just a few of the millions of made up reasons not to allow safe and responsible oil and natural gas development in New York.  Jobs and self-sufficiency are just two of the reasons New York should seriously consider taking the HF-train to economic growth.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.