Monster Wells

Despite Drought, Hundreds of Fracking Sites Used More Than 10 Million Gallons of Water

November 18, 2014

Monster Wells: Conclusion and Recommendations

The oil and gas industry maintains that the amount of water used in fracking is insignificant compared to other uses and that the fracking boom poses no threat to water quantity or quality But that argument doesn’t stand up to the facts, based on the industry’s own websites and the data that drillers report to FracFocus. There is a good reason the industry downplays and obscures the truth about the huge volumes of water used in fracking: The real story is alarming – especially in parts of the country suffering from drought, a condition that is becoming more common with global warming. Though the monster wells EWG found in FracFocus are only a fraction of the thousands of wells drilled in the United States every year, but they point to a serious situation that will only become more acute as fracking spreads and water supplies grow scarcer.

The industry likes to argue that fracking for oil and gas is meeting an important public need – producing energy. That may be true, but it has also produced huge profits, and with the current U.S. glut of oil and gas, an increasing amount of the energy produced is being exported to other countries.30, 31 It is unreasonable for private companies to profit from the use of a finite public resource while cities, communities and farms may be forced to cut back when supplies run low. In Texas, where the fracking boom coincides most directly with water shortages, some counties do not even require companies to obtain permits to drill wells that may be fracked with 10 million or more gallons of water. 32

That must change. What must also change is the unreliable, error-prone, industry-controlled system of tracking the vast amounts of water used for tracking. EWG recommends:

  • State or local authorities should require oil and gas companies to obtain water use permits for every well they drill. Applications for permits should disclose not only the amount of water used but its source and type and how it will be recycled or disposed of.
  • State and local authorities should be able to deny or limit permits for wells they judge to require an excessive amount of water.
  • In times of officially declared drought, oil and gas drilling operations should be subject to the same kind of water use restrictions imposed on citizens, farmers, communities, recreational activities and other industries. Ensuring access to clean, safe affordable drinking water should always be the top priority.
  • To improve reporting and tracking of water use, FracFocus must be replaced with an independent database, overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, modeled on the Toxics Release Inventory. This database should require disclosure of the amount of water used; its source; whether it was fresh, recycled or brackish; and how it was recycled or disposed of.