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Duke University study finds fracking uses less water than previously thought

Duke University study finds fracking uses less water than previously thought

A new research paper out of Duke University casts doubt on one of the primary complaints aimed at hydraulic fracturing: The fossil fuel extraction process uses too much water.

The study calculates that fracking accounts for less than 1 percent of total industrial water use nationally.

Between 2005 and 2014, energy companies used nearly 250 billion gallons of water to extract shale gas and oil. During the same period, the fracked wells generated about 210 billion gallons of wastewater.

The study notes that while those numbers may sound large, many other industries use much more water.

Underground coal and uranium mining, and oil recovery enhancement extraction use between two-and-a-half to 13 times more water per unit of energy produced, the study says.

The study integrated data from multiple government and industry sources and was designed to provide the first comprehensive assessment of how much water fracking actually uses in the United States. Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and co-author of the study, and Ph.D. student Andrew Kondash published their peer-reviewed findings Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

“Water use and wastewater production are two of the chief environmental concerns voiced about hydraulic fracturing,” Vengosh says. “Yet until now we’ve had only a fragmented and incomplete understanding of how much water is actually being used, and how much wastewater is being produced.”

While the level of water use in fracking may be relatively small, the study says it can still have a significant impact on drought-prone regions.

The study also points out that the wastewater that is produced by fracking often carries large amounts of pollutants and is difficult to dispose of properly.

Vengosh has previously published studies linking shale gas exploration and contaminated drinking water, largely due to leaky well shafts. He has also published research on water pollution caused by coal-fired power plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released in June a study that found there is little evidence that hydraulic fracturing has had a “widespread, systematic impacts” on drinking water.

Fracking in North Carolina is currently on hold, pending the outcome of a legal battle between Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly.

Jeff Jeffrey
Triangle Business Journal
Published on:
September 16, 2015
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