Monster Wells

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

November 18, 2014

Monster Wells: Industry Website Is Flawed and Incomplete

FracFocus went online in April 2011 as an industry-maintained database where drillers could report the chemicals used to frack each well and the amount of water they used. It is funded in part by America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute, and the data have repeatedly been shown to be substantially incomplete.15,16

Fracking is known to be used in 36 states, but only 15 require reporting to FracFocus; in other states it is voluntary.17 None of the numbers are verified by a regulatory agency or other independent authority, and key data for individual wells is often missing. For example, for 38 of the 261 monster wells EWG identified, Frac Focus does not even say whether they were drilled for oil or gas. Nor does FracFocus report whether a well was fracked with fresh, recycled or brackish water.

FracFocus is not managed or overseen by a public regulatory agency responsible for ensuring compliance with state and federal laws, does not present data in an easily searchable format and does not allow for aggregation of data across well sites or states. A Bloomberg investigation found that more than half of the wells fracked in the last 10 months of 2011 in Texas, Oklahoma and Montana were not listed on FracFocus, and that more than 90 percent of the companies that drilled new wells in that period didn’t report any of them on FracFocus.18

Although the monster wells EWG identified on FracFocus are a small fraction of the total number of wells fracked in that period, it is likely that there are an unknown number of other, unreported monster wells across the country – and given the breakneck expansion of fracking, more to come. What’s more, many wells are fracked more than once – what the industry calls multi-stage fracking – so the 2011-2013 FracFocus data may not reflect the total volume of water that will ultimately be used to frack a particular well.

In July 2014, EWG attempted to verify the data on the 261 monster wells by contacting the listed well operators by email and, if there was no response, by a follow-up phone call. EWG eventually received responses for 99 wells. All those who responded verified the amount listed in FracFocus except for two wells. For one, the drilling company corrected the reported amount of water used from 17.9 million gallons to 13.9 million gallons, which still left it ranked number 59 on the monster well list. For the other, the company said the amount reported to FracFocus – more than 11.7 million gallons – was incorrect, but it could not supply the correct amount. As of August 2014, the number reported on FracFocus has not changed.