PART I: What 20 Months of Water Consumption for Fracking in the U.S. Looks Like
SkyTruth has been looking over industry-reported data from FracFocus.org to see what we can learn about hydraulic fracturing activity across the U.S. One topic we were curious about was the volume of water being used by fracking operations.
According to a report on modern shale gas prepared for the U.S. Dept. of Energy and others by the Groundwater Protection Council (one of the managers of the FracFocus website):
"[t]he amount of water needed to drill and fracture a horizontal shale gas well generally ranges from about 2 million to 4 million gallons, depending on the basin and formation characteristics."
While that is a lot of water, does the data voluntarily reported match this estimate, and what does that look like repeated thousands of times across the U.S.?
We ranked the leading operators based on the number of reported wells with a Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Product Component Information Disclosure on FracFocus.org and this is what we found:
Looking at these numbers, we find that the industry estimate is fairly accurate but it varies significantly by state. The main variable for the volume of water is the geology of the basin being fracked. Stimulating a conventional shallow well for oil in the Coconino formation of Utah takes much less than an unconventional well in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, and in some cases, like California's Monterrey Shale, are ideally suited for low-volume fracking with an average of only 167,506 gallons.
But even with small fracks, water volumes in the hundreds of thousands of gallons add up to 65.9 billion gallons, so we decided to see what that total volume would look like in the real world. However, a few notes about the data:
- Our analyses are based only on the information which is voluntarily reported by participating companies. We have posted before on the lack of complete disclosure on FracFocus, but for measuring quantities, we can easily assume that our calculations will be conservative.
- Some fracking jobs reuse "produced water" from other jobs, but because it is listed by so many different names, we have not differentiated the amount recycled.
With these considerations in mind, you can see that between January 2011 and August 2012, a total of 20 months, the U.S. used at least 65.9 billion gallons of water to frack for oil and gas, with Texas accounting for almost half of all water use. But as big as these numbers are, what does that look like in the real world?
Visualizing 65.9 Billion Gallons of Frackwater:
To put in perspective the immense volume that this is, we turned our attention to an iconic feature that epitomizes massive quantities of water: Niagara Falls. Standing 167 feet tall between New York, U.S.A. and Ontario, Canada, at least 100,000 cubic feet water flow over these cataracts every second during the daylight hours of summer. (As opposed to be diverted to produce hydro-electric power, an international treaty mandates that at least 100,000 cf/s of flow be maintained during the tourist season to ensure "an unbroken curtain of water.")
The minimum rate of flow that is guaranteed to tourists translates to three-quarters of a million gallons per second . We asked, at this rate, how long would it take for 65.9 billion gallons to thunder over the ledge and onto the Maid of the Mist below? Let's do the math...
1 cubic foot= 7.48 gallons so 100,000 cf/s=748,052 gal./second
748,052 g/s x 60 seconds = 44,883,120 gal./minute
44.88 million gal./min. x 60 min. per hour= 2,692,980,000 gal. /hr. = 100,000 cf/s
So all that leads us to this conclusion:
65,899,611,396 gal. ÷ 2,692,980,000 gal. /hr. = 24.47 hours
At this rate, we can now see it would take over a day for Niagara Falls to represent the 65.9 billion gallons of water the United States has been drawing from rivers, lakes, and streams, trucking or piping to wellpads, lacing with toxic chemicals, mixing with tons of sand (check back in a few days to find out how much sand and where it comes from), and injecting deep into the ground to get oil and gas.
Keep in mind that all of this water either stays in the ground OR returns to the surface as an industrial waste product that is sometimes mildly radioactive, and that is just based on what has been reported to FracFocus. Now that is a LOT of water...
There are many videos of Niagara Falls, but this has a particular SkyTruthiness to it since we are always interested in remote sensing tools like this for obtaining the aerial imagery that defines SkyTruth. (Start at 1:20 for the launch of the RC craft)
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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