“Large volumes of water are withdrawn from ground water and surface
water resources to be used in the hydraulic fracturing process.”
“fifty thousand to 350,000 gallons of water may be required to fracture one well in a coal bed
while two to five million gallons of water may be necessary to fracture one
horizontal well in a shale formation.”-EPA.gov
“The 5 million gallons of water needed to drill and fracture a typical deep
shale gas or oil well is equivalent to the amount of water consumed by:
“Freshwater is the most important resource for mankind, cross-cutting all social, economic and
environmental activities. It is a condition for all life on our planet, an enabling or limiting
factor for any social and technological development, a possible source of welfare or misery,
cooperation or conflict.” -UNESCO.org
“Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost
one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and
500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost
one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage (where
countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).” -UN.org
The biggest concern regarding water usage in the hydraulic fracturing process stems
around it’s complete removal from the fresh water cycle.
What is the water cycle? As any third grader can tell you, our fresh water
completes a cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation:
Water which is used in hydraulic fracturing is mixed with toxic chemicals (no.2) which are
hazardous to human, animal, and plant life and therefore cannot safely be reintroduced into the
water supply. The used fracturing water must be stored (no.5) indefinitely, or disposed of deep
underground; thus it is eliminated from the water cycle. Mining, oil, and gas industries use
only about 1% of the precious fresh water supply, however removal of this water over time
will accumulate and burden an already scarce resource.
It is important to acknowledge that all water is part of a common cycle. This means, when large
amounts of water are withdrawn from community watershed, it directly affects the entire
community’s water supply. One of the biggest frustrations regarding the acquisition of water
for fracking is the ambiguity and lack of regulation. Hydraulic fracturing is a relatively
new process, and policy has been slow to define it.
When governments issue permits to fracking companies, they may have little to no
obligation to consult with the people and/or neighboring communities before tapping into a
shared watershed. This can be particularly frustrating for indigenous tribes and minorities who
share resources with federal powers either by treaty, right, or tradition.
“It’s up to the federal government to uphold their treaty and trust obligations to us. And
while they have obligations and responsibilities to the state and to industry, we’re the only
ones who have that treaty and trust relationship.” -Wes Martel, a member of the Eastern
Shoshone Business Council SOURCE
[Excerpts from ‘Fracking and the Democratic Deﬁcit in South Africa‘ by David Fig]
The regulator does not hold open hearings in granting these rights. The only way in which the
public can intervene is when the company applies for an exploration right. To do so, the
company must hire consultants to produce an Environmental Management Report (EMR). It needs to
release the EMR to those registered as interested and aﬀected parties, hold public meetings,
and allow time for the public to make comments on the report. Since the exploration rights are
often, in South African practice, converted almost automatically to production rights, this is
one of the very few occasions in which the public has any voice in the process.
Fracking is a controversial new technology, for which almost no research has been undertaken in
South Africa. In order for companies to ﬁnd out how large the resource is, and whether it is
worth exploiting, fracking has to be undertaken during the exploration phase. Therefore giving
permission to explore, in eﬀect means that government would be allowing fracking to take place
immediately. It is unlikely that the eﬀects of fracking would ever be reversed once it has
started taking place.
In many of the fracking areas of the United States, such as the Marcellus Shale area of
Pennsylvania, water is plentiful. Not so in the shale ﬁelds of the Karoo, one of South Africa’s
most arid areas. Life in the Karoo depends on access to groundwater from underground aquifers
or chambers containing fresh water which is replenished by the infrequent rains. The Karoo is
characterised by its extensive sheep, ostrich and, increasingly, game farming, with steel wind
pumps drawing up the groundwater for animal and human consumption. Surface dams or reservoirs
provide the rest of the area’s water requirements, but these can be unreliable. (For example,
in recent years the dams in the Beaufort West area dried up, causing a water crisis in the
town. Travellers passing through it were asked to donate bottled water to help alleviate the
Most of South Africa’s surface fresh water (98%) has already been allocated to existing users.
This raises the question of how the fracking industry will source the millions of litres it
will need to undertake its operations. It has been calculated that 20-25 million litres may be
needed to frack a single well. This would require transportation of water by at least 1 667
trucks per well and possibly the building of expensive pipelines and desalination plants. Shell
and other companies have failed to announce from where this large quantity of water will be
drawn. Shell has, however, undertaken not to draw it from the Karoo, but some hydrologists
have recommended that it be sourced from the already overstretched Gariep (formerly Orange)
Around 30 per cent of the water used in the process will be unrecoverable and will remain
underground. This subtracts it from the water that might be recycled.
There is no speciﬁc law regulating the use or protection of underground water, and
certainly no law speciﬁcally pertaining to the use of fracking as a technology.”
[Excerpt from ‘Ambiguities Persist in Regulating Water Withdrawals for Fracking’ by Kate Galbraith, Texas Tribune]
In Dimmit County, another Eagle Ford Shale drilling hotbed, drillers can pump as much water as
they want — and no permit is required.
This tale of two counties reflects the ambiguity in state rules regarding
groundwater for fracking. Texas’ water code was written well before the spread of fracking,
which involves sending millions of gallons of water (along with sand and chemicals) down a well
to rupture hard rock that contains oil or gas. As a result, some groundwater authorities
require companies using water for fracking to obtain a permit, while others do not.
The groundwater groups want legislators to clarify the regulations so that they can understand
the amount of water being pumped from aquifers in their area for fracking, and potentially put
limits on the volumes being pumped.
Interpretation of the law “depends on which lawyer you talk to,” said Slate Williams, general
manager of the Crockett County Groundwater Conservation District in West Texas. His district
does not require a permit for water wells used for fracking. It does ask drillers to report the
amount of water they withdraw monthly.
“They don’t always do that, but it’s something we ask,” Williams said.
The confusion among groundwater districts stems from a provision in the Texas water code that
states that a groundwater district cannot require a permit if the well is drilled to supply
water for a rig doing “drilling or exploration operations” for an oil or gas well.
Traditionally, “drilling or exploration” has meant processes like mixing water with clay and
other materials to make mud that makes it easier to drill. But the question that groundwater
districts are struggling with is this: Is fracking considered “drilling or
exploration”? Or does fracking count as oil and gas “production,” in which case the
groundwater districts can require a permit?
Groundwater permits can stipulate limits on the amount of water pumped, and limits on the time
frame within which a water well may be used. Large farmers and cities must get permits to use
groundwater. The use of water for petroleum drilling and exploration is one of three explicit
exemptions to the permitting requirement. (The other two are surface mining, and homesteads of
more than 10 acres that need a modest amount of water for home use and livestock.)
Several bills filed in the Legislature this session seek to resolve the confusion, which has
become more pressing as water use for fracking has soared. It more than doubled between 2008
and 2011. In 2011, fracking still accounted for less than 1 percent of the state’s overall
water usage, a widely cited study says. But in some rural areas like Dimmit County, the
percentage of water going to fracking has reached the double digits.”
http://www.unwater.org/ (UN water)
http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/water/ (UNESCO water)
http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/index.shtml (Water for Life 2005-2015)
http://www.fao.org/nr/water/ (FAO water)
FRESH WATER CYCLES
http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/ (National Geographic)
FRACKING WATER IMPACT
http://fracfocus.org/water-protection/hydraulic-fracturing-usage (water usage)
FRACKING WATER REGULATION
http://www.ncsl.org/research/energy/fracking-update-what-states-are-doing.aspx (State policy)
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