Commonly known as fracking, hydraulic fracturing is a process of extracting oil and natural gas from underground. This process requires massive amounts of water to be injected into shale, along with a number of chemicals. There are many environmental concerns surrounding fracking, but water quantity is quickly becoming one of the more urgent issues with this type of extraction. A recent report published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology shows the potential magnitude of this issue, as well as how much we still have to learn.
Fracking sites are often situated near, and make use of, small streams, which act as a freshwater source. Many of these streams are already being used for other purposes, however, including contributing to the drinking water supply of nearby communities. Residents may also use these streams for recreation, and the small bodies of water form an ecosystem in which many species thrive.
Each gas well requires an average of five million gallons of freshwater to successfully extract the gas underneath the shale. To put this in perspective, this amount of water could fill seven Olympic-size pools. Repurposing this much water from the streams can have a major impact, not only on the residents who depend on this water supply, but also on the species who live in it.
Just how big of an impact remains to be seen; thus far, most of the discussion among experts has revolved around the impact on water quality, rather than quantity. Recently, however, a team of researchers sought to understand the effects on the water supply, by examining data from the Fayetteville Shale play in Arkansas. From 2004 to 2014, more than 5,000 fracturing wells were drilled on this gas field. The scientists measured water usage and timing for the wells, compared to flow rates of streams, which supply drinking water to thousands of nearby residents.
The streams that supply the Fayetteville Shale play contain 10 aquatic species with drastically declining populations. Depending on the month, the water stress due to fracking was found to affect aquatic organisms in as few as seven, or as many as 51 percent of the catchments. These figures would decline slightly – to between three and 45 percent – if all of the wastewater were recycled. But that would be a best-case scenario for those environments.
It is still unclear how much water can sustainably be drawn from small freshwater streams, while still maintaining the drinking water supply, as well as avoiding harm to their ecosystems. Thorough monitoring of water withdrawal and flow rates is needed to understand the potential damage to streams and their surrounding communities. While we wait for this data to become available, however, some environments may already be damaged, possibly irreparably.
If your community has suffered due to irresponsible fracking practices, call the Philadelphia environmental lawyers at Williams Cedar. Our team has the knowledge and experience to handle all types of fracking cases, and we are dedicated to getting you the compensation you deserve. Call us at 215-557-0099 or 856-874-7500, or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our offices are conveniently located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey and we serve clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.