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GSA Critical Issue: Hydraulic Fracturing

Table of Contents


Hydraulic Fracturing Defined

Hydraulic Fracturing’s History
and Role in Energy Development

Potential Environmental Issues
Associated with Hydraulic Fracturing

Water Quality

Water Use

Triggered or Induced Seismicity

Regulation Issues

Staying Informed



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The hydraulic fracturing critical issue will be periodically updated.

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Water use by sector, 2005

Figure 14:

Water use by sector, 2005. Water for oil and gas development is in mining category. Note that thermoelectric power is mostly non-consumptive use of water. USGS Circular 1344, Report on 2010 water use data expected in 2014.

Hydraulic fracturing, particularly when applied to horizontal wells, can use 13 million gallons or more water per well, though two to five million gallons is more typical [16, 40]. These are one-time uses per well. As a category, water used in oil and gas development is relatively small in comparison to other recurring uses (Fig. 14) [16, 29]. However, where drilling rates are high and particularly in water-short areas, water use for hydraulic fracturing can become significant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the potential competition of hydraulic fracturing with drinking water supplies, both current and future demands in two basins, one humid (Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania) and one semi-arid (Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado)[19]. Water needs thirty years out are based on drilling trends, natural gas production, and population growth.

Drilling companies are working on improved methods to recycle water used in hydraulic fracturing, or to use saline water that is unsuitable for drinking [32]. Many energy companies are treating and reusing produced and flowback water; the feasibility depends on the quantity, quality, and duration of water generated [37]. Some companies are trying nonflammable propane fracking fluid, which contains no water [44]. However, because of chemical mixing considerations and costs, fresh water continues to be the preferred and primary source of water for hydraulic fracturing in many areas.

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