California is experiencing the worst drought in its history. So when state lawmakers recently killed a bill that would have banned the practice of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, environmentalists cried foul. These “fractivists” claim the controversial drilling technique is sucking up the state’s limited water supplies.
That is nonsense. Fracking represents a tiny fraction of California’s water consumption. There’s no reason to single it out. Legislatures were right to reject the bill.
Fracking involves injecting a pressurized water mixture into shale rock to free up the embedded oil and gas for extraction. How much water gets used depends on a host of factors related to the specific well. For the shale formations in Pennsylvania, fracking a well usually requires more than 4 million gallons of water. Some Texas wells require more than 6 million gallons.
But California’s geography and geology are such that fracking operations require very little water, just about 16,000-164,000 gallons for the average well.
Think of it this way: Filling an Olympic-size swimming pool takes 660,000 gallons of water. The fracking operation in California requires about a quarter of that amount.
Most California wells only require vertical drilling, not horizontal drilling, which requires much more water. Local rock formations also tend to be fairly saturated with water to begin with, meaning less needs to be externally injected to create the pressure necessary to shake free the oil and gas.
And Californians are getting a huge economic return for those gallons. Fracking-related projects add about $283 billion to U.S. GDP every year. Fracking has brought a dramatic expansion in the domestic American energy industry, leading to hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions in new growth. Expanded use of the drilling technique could boost California’s economic activity by 14.3 percent, according to work from the University of Southern California.
What’s more, researchers at the University of Texas have determined that the amount of water saved producing electricity at a natural gas plant rather than a coal plant exceeds the water used to frack a well by as much as 50 percent.
Meanwhile, other business activities in this state account for much more water consumption. For instance, watering a single golf course in California consumes an average of 363,000 gallons of water per day — and California has more than 1,000 courses. It would be preposterous to suppress fracking while allowing less critical activities to continue. Fracking plays a crucial role in state economic development. Keeping the putting greens crisp does not.
Fracking can be made more water-efficient. And energy companies have every incentive to do so. Saving water saves money. Trucking water to drilling sites can cost upwards of $400,000 per 100,000 barrels.
The industry is embracing conservation. Fracking operations increasingly use recycled water and brackish water, a mixture of fresh and sea water. At the Arroyo Grande oil field near San Luis Obispo, the French transnational company Veiola Water has partnered with Plains Exploration and Production to create a treatment facility that can recycle 45,000 gallons of water per day.
Currently about 16 percent of fracking fluids nationwide include reused water. According to the respected energy consulting firm IHS, that figure is set to double over the next decade.
Singling out fracking as a threat to California’s limited water supplies is spurious. And banning fracking while allowing golf courses, car washes and other non-essential activities to continue would defy all logic.
Written by: Chris Faulkner. CEO of Breitling Energy Corp., is author of “The Fracking Truth” and producer of the upcoming documentary, “Breaking Free: The Shale Rock Revolution.” He wrote this for this newspaper.