New Data: Water Use in Hydraulic Fracturing a Key Risk in Water-Stressed Regions in Texas and Colorado

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New Data: Water Use in Hydraulic Fracturing a Key Risk in Water-Stressed Regions in Texas and Colorado

Water Use Per Well Doubles Even as Production Declines, Increasing Wastewater Disposal Risks

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Note: Water stress is a measure of competition for water. See WRI indicator and maps for more information.

Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 10:45am

CONTENT: Press Release

New Ceres research, released today via an interactive map, shows that 57 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells over the past five years were in regions of high water competition, particularly in Texas and Colorado, creating significant long-term water sourcing risks for communities, companies operating in these regions, and their investors.

“Even with the slowdown in oil and gas production, hydraulic fracturing is potentially heightening the competition for water resources in many of the country’s most water-stressed regions,” said Monika Freyman, director, Investor Initiative, Water Program at the nonprofit sustainability group Ceres, who led the water use research effort. “Oil and gas companies face increasing water risks in key basins, and investors and banks financing this activity should be pressing harder on their strategies for managing these water risks.”

Competition for Water in US Shale Energy Development

Chesapeake, EOG Resources and Anadarko Petroleum were the biggest water users overall, while Pioneer Natural Resources and Encana were especially active in regions with extremely high water stress.

The top three plays by water use were the Eagle Ford, Marcellus and Midland Plays, with the Eagle Ford and Midland Plays being of particular concern given both their high water use and exposure to high water stress, drought and declining groundwater supplies.  Weld County, Colorado saw the highest number of wells drilled (almost 7,000 wells) and water used for fracking (more than 16 billion gallons) of any county in the United States.

The analysis, which aggregates data by shale play and by operator, is based on water use data from 109,665 oil and gas wells reported to from January 2011 through January 2016 and water stress indicator maps developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI). (Extreme high water stress regions, as defined by WRI, are areas where 80 percent of available surface and groundwater are already allocated to municipal, industrial and agricultural users.)

"Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction, which used to be "unconventional", is now a part of most conventional energy company portfolios in the U.S. and Canada. This has made water management a critical liability or competitive advantage for companies and their investors," said Steven Heim, managing director for Boston Common Asset Management. “Ceres’s update provides investors useful data to reassess companies on their water risk exposure."

The large volumes of wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing that must be managed at the surface and ultimately disposed of in underground deep well injection sites are a significant and growing issue at the local level. These wastewater injections have been linked to surface and groundwater contamination events, as well as to earthquakes with Oklahoma limiting access to some disposal wells.

Other Key Findings:

  • Fracking-related water use from January 2011 to January 2016 was 358 billion gallons, equivalent to the water needs of 200 mid-sized U.S. cities.
  • The data show that while overall fracking-related water use peaked in 2014, average water use per well has doubled since 2013, from 2.6 million gallons per well to 5.3 million gallons per well at the end of January 2016. This is likely due to longer lateral pipelines and drill site activity.
  • Local communities at the epicenter of fracking are hardest hit by water demands for fracking activities. In seven of the top 10 counties, annual water use for hydraulic fracturing reached over 100% of each county’s domestic water use.

This update to Ceres’ 2014 report “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers,” is designed to help investors analyze key trends on water use and water risk exposure by region and operator. It also provides recommendations for companies to improve their water management and reduce their overall exposure to water sourcing risks.



Meg Wilcox
+1 (617) 319-6457
Tessa Castellani
+1 (631) 335-9895
CATEGORY: Environment