Water Abuse in the Fracking Process

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"509","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"384","style":"width: 263px; height: 384px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"263"}}]]Water is used in shale gas development from cradle to grave, however, most people don't think about it beyond the issues of groundwater contamination.

Procuring and bringing raw materials like silica sand, steel, cement, and fracking chemicals to the well locations requires an incredible amount of manufacturing, transportation, and plant fuel, which are water intensive fuels to produce.
 
Each well requires 5-9 million gallons of water to be fracked. Water is also used to create oil-based drilling muds that are injected downhole when the well is first drilled to lubricate the drill bit. For pipelines, the most prevalent way infrastructure is tested for integrity is hydrostatic testing, where water is used to pressurize the lines and test for leaks.
 
Water withdrawals are approved by states and in some cases by federal river commissions. Because the water is combined with fracking fluid, sand, chemicals, and underground contaminants, much of it never returns to the water cycle. In fact, between 50 to 80 percent of the water used in fracking remains deep underground, forever entombed.

In 2012, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, comprised of governors' representatives from PA, MD, and New York, as well as the White House, approved a three million gallon per day water withdrawal in Jersey Shore, PA that required the removal and relocation of 32 mobile home resident families.

Drought conditions in Texas' Barnett Shale and California's Monterrey Shale regions force residential, commercial, and agricultural consumers to compete with the needs of fracking companies.

If well casings fail or fissures communicate with groundwater supplies, contamination of rural landowners' drinking water can occur. In 2009, 18 water supplies in Dimock, Pennsylvania were found by the Pennsylvania DEP to have been contaminated by drilling mud, fracking chemicals, and methane. Three remaining families are suing the driller, Cabot Oil & Gas, for damages and are going to federal jury trial this November with the support of Energy Justice Network.
 
Waste streams from the drilling create water contamination issues. Increasingly, the industry brags about "recycling" water, or "beneficial reuse," which entails filtering the drilling mud and fracking waste through an accordion press, similar to cheesecloth, to remove the solids. This allows the remaining liquid to be reused with more water in future frack jobs. What the industry doesn't tell you is that the solids are sent to municipal landfills that discharge their leachate into surface waters.
 
Another popular way of disposing of liquid waste from fracking is deep underground injection wells, known as Class II wells, permitted by the EPA. This method of disposal has been linked to earthquakes by Ohio state geologists because the "slick water" as it's known by the industry, can lubricate faults.
 
Finally, water is intensively used by gas power plants that are being built at an alarming rate to generate steam and cool the plant. Cooling water is discharged into surface water and can cause disruption to local ecosystems that are sensitive to temperature like trout fisheries. The consumption of water can also compete with the needs of local water consumers in times of drought, when utilities may be required to raise rates.